When the tiny crew of rallygoers reached the top of the escalator, the hot bubble of suspense encompassing the nation’s capital finally popped. Everyone assumed their roles: The white supremacists held up their flags and walked, surrounded by police, down 23rd Street. Counterprotesters, fazed only slightly by the small numbers of their opposition, chased after them, chanting and screaming, all the way to Lafayette Square across from the White House. “Fuck you, Nazis!” they shouted. “Justice for Heather!”
“This is my community, and I think it’s important, when Nazis come to town, you have to show them they’re not welcome,” said Bridget Todd, a 33-year-old African American woman from D.C., and one of the hosts of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast. She was walking quickly down 23rd Street, shouting at the small group of white supremacists. “They’re terrible at organizing,” Todd said, laughing. “I had more people at my niece’s baby shower than this.”
Christine Roberts, a 55-year-old white woman who came three and a half hours from New Jersey to protest the rally, was surprised by the turnout. “I thought there would be more of the protesters,” Roberts said. “I didn’t realize there would be so many counterprotesters, so I’m really kind of thrilled.”
At Lafayette Square, the Unite the Right rally was separated from the counterprotesters by a large expanse of grass, dozens of police officers, and a fence. Al Stankard, a dark-haired man in khaki pants and a gray fedora, was standing on a raised platform and speaking about “antiwhite scapegoating,” but hardly anyone was listening. The press outnumbered the white nationalists three to one, and the rallygoers were dispersed across the lawn, talking to reporters and posing for pictures with their MAGA hats, flags, and bandanas. Across the grass, the hordes of counterprotesters pushed against the fence holding them back, screaming, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Thunder boomed, and rain started to fall.
“I’ve been gettin’ this my whole life,” said David, a 66-year-old who describes himself as a “pro-white” activist and drove from Texas to attend the rally. David, who declined to give his last name, said he believes there are too many nonwhite people living in the United States. What does he want to do about it? “The way you do it is like Trump’s doin’ it,” he explained, matter-of-factly. “You don’t actually kick people out … You steer the policy in a way that people think, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to go on back.’”
It was on this idea that many on Lafayette Square were able to agree: Donald Trump is helping further the cause of white supremacists. As examples, counterprotesters pointed to the administration’s implementation of a ban on visitors from several Muslim countries, its “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in family separations, and its push to limit citizenship for legal immigrants. Both groups say they were proven right last year, when Trump told a group of reporters that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the violence in Charlottesville.