By Joseph Ax
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – Washington was bracing for a white nationalist rally on Sunday organized to coincide with the anniversary of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The “Unite the Right 2” event was scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) in Lafayette Square (NYSE:), across the street from the White House. Several counterprotests have also received permission to gather nearby.
Authorities have promised an enormous police presence to keep both sides apart and avoid the street brawls that broke out last year in downtown Charlottesville. A local woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when an Ohio man, James Fields, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
At the time, President Donald Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism from across the political divide that he was equating the counterprotesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.
In Washington on Saturday evening, nearly two dozen police officers patrolled Lafayette Square. Members of the Washington chapter of Black Lives Matter were sprinkled through the park, seemingly standing on guard.
Organizers of #OccupyLafayettePark, a civil rights group that holds nightly protests in the square, held up posters reading “Love America, Hate Trump” and “Defend The District From White Supremacy” just a few steps away from the White House.
In Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.
Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening, as a rally planned for the University of Virginia campus turned into a march through the city.
Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.
Earlier on Saturday, a group of anti-fascist protesters walked through the downtown area, holding signs with messages like “Good Night White Pride.”
But the day was largely free of confrontation, and rumors that white nationalists planned a return to Charlottesville on Saturday turned out to be unfounded. Authorities had arrested three people by early evening, all for minor offenses.
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