Counterprotesters Outnumber 'Unite The Right' Rally Attendees
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A small group of white supremacists gathered near the White House yesterday in Lafayette Park. They were protected by a huge police presence keeping them separated from hundreds of counterdemonstrators.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Back it up now.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Back up.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Back it up.
GREENE: Now, in the end, the Unite the Right follow-up rally was out-organized and outnumbered by counterprotesters. NPR's Brian Mann is in Washington and as - was at yesterday's demonstration. He joins us. Hi there, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So this came on the anniversary of last year's deadly Charlottesville riot. Sounds like this white supremacist gathering turned out to be much smaller than expected. I mean, was it a bust?
MANN: Yeah, it sort of had that feel. And we were able to count only about 25 people, men mostly, some wearing masks or bandanas over their faces. Jason Kessler did speak to his group and to the media, but really his message was almost completely overshadowed through the day by counterdemonstrators. Here's what a lot of the day sounded like.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA. No Nazis...
GREENE: Wow. OK, that's a sign of how the day went if those were the sounds that really were prominent. You mentioned Jason Kessler, one of the organizers. Was he surprised by how few people turned out for him?
MANN: Well, he got a permit for up to 400 people, and in the end he attracted fewer than 10 percent of that. And so I think a lot of people here were surprised and also, you know, thrilled. They described this as a victory. I spoke to one street activist here, David, who said he wound up feeling kind of sorry for Kessler and his group not only because there were so few of them but also, you know, just because of this message that they brought of racial division. A lot of people here said that was just kind of a sad message that just didn't fly.
GREENE: You know, I wondered if now that it - so few people showed up yesterday if some of the counterprotesters were sort of, I don't know, miffed that Kessler's organization and this rally got so much attention, I mean, if we're only talking about 25 people actually coming out for it.
MANN: Yeah, I think miffed is too soft a word. I heard a lot of dismay and anger and really at the fact that so much of America's national conversation about race does wind up being driven by people who have what really are in this case just flatly bigoted views. The interesting thing, though, I think is that these counterdemonstrators worked hard to shift the discussion. There was a lot of talk here about other aspects of race relations in America - people talking about poverty, segregation, criminal justice. I talked to one guy, DeAndre Fuentes (ph), and he said that change of topic was deliberate.
DEANDRE FUENTES: I'm here to show white supremacy that black people will meet you head on.
MANN: Yeah. So in the end, most of what I heard about race here yesterday wasn't coming from Kessler or his group of white supremacists.
GREENE: And, Brian, we should remember last year in Charlottesville a counterdemonstrator, Heather Heyer, was killed by white nationalists. It sounds like she was very prominent on the minds of counterprotesters yesterday.
MANN: Yeah, she was remembered and honored. There were a lot of signs in the crowd with Heather Heyer's name. People I talked to spoke about her emotionally and said they were here in part because of her. And people, David, also just talked about wanting to stop the momentum, as they perceive it, of the white nationalist movement. A year ago, people were caught off guard by the scope and violence of what happened in Charlottesville. And this - thanks to this huge counterdemonstration, it just felt very different.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Brian Mann reporting for us here in Washington. Brian, thanks.
MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.