5 things to know about today’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally and counterprotests

Far-right protesters and counterprotesters are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., on Sunday on the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.

It was just a year ago Saturday that tiki-torch-carrying white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville shocked much of the country.

The next day, hundreds of counterprotesters clashed with the far-right demonstrators. Heather Heyer, a Charlottesville resident taking part in the counterprotests, was killed after a car was driven into a crowd of demonstrators.

Far-right activists have moved this year’s march to Washington, D.C. Here are five things to watch.

How many will turn out for the far-right?

It’s widely expected that fewer members of the far-right movement will attend Sunday’s rally than attended the rally in Charlottesville.

Experts said there are multiple reasons to expect turnout to be low, including concern among far-right activists that last year’s rally created bad publicity for the movement.

George Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama who studies the far-right, said members of the movement had hoped the Charlottesville rally “would make them transition into being a normal, real-world political movement.”

“The opposite was what happened,” he said. “They found themselves further marginalized, and they did not make gains among the rest of the population, and I suspect it really put a damper on future growth.”

Hawley said he would be surprised if more than 100 far-right activists show up Sunday.

Experts also said far-right groups have more difficulty organizing now than they did a year ago as a result of a number of far-right platforms and figures being banned from fundraising sites and social media sites.

Last year, Charlottesville organizers used PayPal to organize the event, but the fundraising site has since denied access to many far-right groups and figures.

“It has been an across the board collapse of financial platforms,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Most of the hate groups now have been reduced to either getting checks in the mail or cash or Bitcoin.”

Jason Kessler, the organizer of this year’s “Unite the Right” rally, said he is “going for quality over quantity this time.”

Counterprotesters expected to significantly outnumber far-right members

Even as turnout among members of the far-right is anticipated to be low, counterprotesters are expected to be out in full force on Sunday.

Dozens of anti-racist organizations, including Black Lives Matter and Antifa groups, have banded together under Shut It Down DC, a coalition group created in response to the rally. Activists and experts said there could be up to 1,000 counterprotesters who take to D.C.

Hawley, the University of Alabama professor, said he would be surprised if the counterprotesters don’t outnumber members of the far-right by “at least 10-to-1.”

Mark Bray, a Dartmouth College lecturer who studies anti-fascist movements, said the counterprotesters in D.C. might even outnumber those who protested last year’s rally in Charlottesville.

“It seems like there are a lot of local groups that are mobilizing for this and it seems like people are coming from neighboring states probably as far away as New York, Boston and elsewhere,” Bray said.

Will Trump say anything?

Last year’s rally in Charlottesville marked a low-point for Donald Trump’s presidency. In the aftermath of the rally, he first condemned the violence “on many sides” and later said there was “blame on both sides” for the deadly violence that occurred, sparking intense criticism and debate over his reluctance to condemn white supremacists.

Trump dubbed counterprotesters the “alt-left” and said they were partially to blame for the rally’s violence.

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right?” Trump asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”

If Trump makes any public comments on this year’s rally, it will likely be from his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. The president is currently there on a working vacation and is not scheduled to return to the White House until Monday.

Trump in a tweet on Saturday said he condemns “all types of racism and acts of violence.”

“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation,” he said. “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”

How will police handle the rally?

Law enforcement in D.C. will be under the microscope Sunday after the Charlottesville Police Department was sharply criticized last year for not doing enough to prevent violence at the rally.

A former federal prosecutor’s review of law enforcement in Charlottesville found that police were unprepared for the event and disorganized during it. For example, sources reported that the chief of police responded to early violence by ordering police to “let them fight” because it would “make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”

D.C. police declined an interview for this story. But Chief of Police Peter Newsham told NBC Washington that police plan to make efforts to keep Unite the Right protesters and counterprotesters separate from each other.

Additionally, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an order Thursday meant to coordinate local, regional and federal efforts in supporting law enforcement ahead of the rally.

I’ve issued an order to fully ensure local, regional, and federal partners can support law enforcement’s response to this weekend’s First Amendment activities. See full order below ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/f4WYldBJJB

— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) August 9, 2018

Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the police’s plan to keep counterprotesters separate from members of the far-right is a sound one.

“We have been for years calling for cops to separate these groups,” Beirich said. “One of the great contrasts was between Charlottesville last year, which was a disaster, and Boston, which happened a couple weeks later, where the cops kept everyone separate and there was no violence. That’s the thing that needs to be done.”

What will happen in Charlottesville?

In Charlottesville, a state of emergency has been declared in and around the city from Friday through Sunday to combat potential unrest in the area.

Kessler, the “Unite the Right” organizer, recently dropped a motion requesting a permit to hold a rally this weekend in Charlottesville. Despite that, the city is planning for possible demonstrations over the weekend, including one announced counterprotest from University of Virginia students against white supremacy.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the state will deploy resources from the Virginia State Police, the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and other departments to “support emergency responders in case they are needed.”

Similar resources will be deployed to northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., according to the statement.

Charlottesville police chief RaShall Brackney told The Cavalier Daily that police are “closely monitoring the intelligence that is available to us about who is coming and who is going elsewhere.”

“I think we would be irresponsible if we didn’t have a plan like the one you are seeing,” Brackney reportedly said.

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