Unite the Right and the price we pay to tolerate hate 

A year later, what has changed?

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Dustin Waters

click to enlarge Waters - COURTESY DUSTIN WATERS
  • Courtesy Dustin Waters
  • Waters

I was walking toward the White House to check out the white supremacist rally this weekend when I overheard a young black woman talking on the phone. She was striding with more than a hint of frustration. That much was obvious without her saying a word.

"I honestly don't mind them coming here for their march or whatever," she said of Sunday's Unite the Right rally, "but these alt-right assholes are making the Uber prices go up."

In the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of the first Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that resulted in the murder of counter protester Heather Heyer, D.C. officials began to brace for the worst. Rally organizer Jason Kessler was turned away from Charlottesville. He found better luck in Washington where Kessler estimated up to 400 like-minded followers would join him to speak out for "white civil rights."

As the day of the rally finally arrived, streets surrounding Lafayette Square were closed and blocked off by police cars and snowplows. Firearms were prohibited in the vicinity of what city officials had taken to calling a "First Amendment activity." Some nearby churches suspended Sunday service.

click to enlarge DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters

Then Kessler and two dozen of his supporters arrived at the Vienna Metro station where they were to catch their train into the city. By now we've all heard about the laughable turnout for Sunday's Unite the Right rally. The 30 or so white supremacists who attended the rally were easily shouted down by the hundreds upon hundreds of counter protesters who were kept at a distance by police.

As soon as Kessler and his ilk arrived at the Metro station, they were surrounded by a heavy police presence. The station was briefly closed to the public as the marchers were escorted into a semiprivate train car. It's this level of consideration offered to white supremacists that drew heavy criticism.

During the brief time that Kessler addressed his followers near the White House, a large man wearing a softball helmet stood over his shoulder waiving various pieces of paper. The man's face was covered with an American flag bandanna, but his message was clear.

"Wake up, White Man," read his note, "You are a minority by 2042."

click to enlarge DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters

As the Unite the Right rally began to wind down, the sound of bottle rockets exploding overhead mixed with booming thunder. The rain remained steady into the evening as a large number of counter protesters began a march of their own. The white supremacists had been shuttled away with a police escort by that point. Now around 200 counter protesters stood along rows of officers blocking the streets.

Among the several young black men who took turns addressing the motorcycle-mounted police who filled G St., the refrain was the same. They asked how hate groups could receive such consideration — something they claimed to have never received in their own hometown.

click to enlarge DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters

Members of Unite the Right had been shepherded in and out of the city. The cost of which is still unknown, although D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham simply said it was "a lot."

The embarrassing turnout at the second Unite the Right rally has been good for a laugh, but even one Nazi is too many. Because it only ever takes one person to do something horrible, and one person to normalize these trespasses. Just look at the chain of events that got us here.

On June 17, 2015 — just one day after Donald Trump formally launched his campaign for presidency — Dylann Roof killed nine black parishioners inside Emanuel AME Church in hopes of igniting a race war. Roof's attack instead launched a push to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces across the country. One such campaign to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville would inspire Kessler to arrange the original Unite the Right rally during which a lone white supremacist crashed a car into a crowd of people. Trump responded with the now infamous line that there were "very fine people on both sides." A year later, what has changed?

click to enlarge DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters

Well, a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service (PDF) found that in his first year as president, Trump's list of nominees for circuit and district court justices was the whitest of his three most recent predecessors. In his first year, Trump's circuit court nominees were 89 percent white, while his district court nominees were 92 percent white. Even on the evening of the recent Unite the Right rally, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was unable to name a single black White House staffer.

Given a chance once again to directly denounce Unite the Right this past weekend, Trump held back, tweeting, "I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans."

No. Not when their very philosophy is an act of aggression. There has been too much half stepping in this area. Because while a small group of white supremacists can come into the nation's capital with the guarantee of peace, the rest of us get no such promise. We get our streets closed, our churches shuttered. We get caught walking in the rain because Uber rates are surging. And while that may seem like a small price to pay, it's still more ground than we should ever cede to white supremacists.

Dustin Waters is a freelance writer (and former staff writer for 'Charleston City Paper') currently living in Washington, D.C.


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