On August 11, 2017, hundreds of members of the alt-right, led by two University of Virginia (UVA) alumni, gathered in Charlottesville, Va. for the “Unite the Right” rally — an event ostensibly designed to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The event quickly assumed a threatening tone that evening as attendees marched through the UVA campus while carrying torches and repeating anti-Semitic chants.On the second day of the rally, counter-protesters clashed with members of the alt-right. One counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed after a self-professed Neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd.
Now, a contingent of this same alt-right group plans to hold a “Unite the Right 2” demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the 2017 rally. Planning for the event began in May, when Unite the Right organizer and UVA alumnus Jason Kessler filed an application with the National Park Service to convene approximately 400 people in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park — located directly across from the White House — for the stated purpose of holding a “white civil rights rally.” His application was approved in June. Kessler had originally tried to plan the event in Charlottesville; when city officials denied his request, he tried unsuccessfully to sue the municipality.
Kessler and others plan to march from a metro station near George Washington University to Lafayette Square where they will conduct a two-hour rally. For the most part, however, their plans are largely unclear, as is the number of alt-right supporters who plan to attend. Kessler, as well as many of last year’s attendees, are still grappling with lawsuits from Charlottesville, leading many to speculate that such legal trouble may be an incentive for them to avoid further trouble.
Anti-racist organizers, on the other hand, have told multiple news outlets that they plan to send thousands of counter-protesters to “Unite the Right 2” under the name “Shut It Down DC.”
Many political reporters have argued that the events in Charlottesville weakened the power of the alt-right. Multiple powerful personalities in the movement, such as Richard Spencer, have lost funding from former supporters. Kessler was widely criticized for posting insults about Heyer on Twitter and was lambasted for later attributing the offensive nature of his tweets to a combination of Ambien and Xanax.
By contrast, some believe that the violence in Charlottesville made many Americans more sympathetic to the message of counter-protesters. The city, for example, elected social justice activist Nikuyah Walker as its first African American female mayor shortly after the 2017 rally. Her campaign focused on creating a racially equitable town where everyone can thrive.
Following the “Unite the Right” rally last year, President Donald Trump raised ire for stating that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest, rather than condemning the alt-right’s show of racism and violence. It remains to be seen how the White House will react to the rally planned for this Sunday.