WASHINGTON – The "Unite the Right" rally in Washington ended on Sunday night after a disappointing turnout for the far-right organizers, who expected up to 400 participants, but ended up attracting only a few dozens.
The small crowd of neo-Nazis and white supremacists was much smaller compared to the demonstrations last year in Charlottesville, and it dispersed earlier than expected because of rain that began pouring in the middle of the demonstration.
The small crowd of far-right activists was dwarfed by hundreds of counter-protests who gathered near the White House. The local police separated efficiently between the two groups of demonstrators, and stopped the uneventful event from turning violent.
Hours before the far-right demonstration began, thousands of people already gathered for different counterprotests across the capital. The largest of the counterprotests took place at Freedom Plaza, close to the National Mall, where more than a 1,000 people arrived, carrying signs with slogans like "Reject Fascism" and "Black Lives Matter." There was heavy police presence in the area, but as of the early evening hours, no violent events were recorded. Police helicopters were constantly flying over the downtown area.
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Another gathering took place nearby, in the National Mall, under the title "United to Love." Rabbi Aaron Alexander of the Conservative Adas Israel synagogue in Washington spoke at the event and highlighted the importance of people from different religious cooperating against hate and extremism.
"There is a lot of anger that this is where we are in 2018," Alexander told Haaretz after his speech. "This is not where we would like to see our country."
He added that "we need to be as loud as we can. We need to speak out. Our message must be heard, especially on a day like today. We have a message of love, faith and diversity. I was happy to spend this day among people of diverse backgrounds, speaking up for the ideals we all believe in."
Alexander referred to the anti-Semitic slogan that was shouted by the far-right demonstrators last year in Charlottesville, "Jews will not replace me," and said that "we don't want to replace anybody. But we do want to replace the hatred in these people's hearts." Alexander's synagogue hosted Washington mayor, Muriel Bowser, earlier this week, for an event in which she discussed the city's preparations ahead of the far-right demonstrations.
Later on in the evening, the white nationalists who marched on Washington and rallied at a park near the White House left the area in white vans under a police escort.
The demonstration led by the principal organizer of last year's "Unite the Right" event in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jason Kessler, ended earlier than expected. Those marching with Kessler numbered only about 30, far fewer than the 100 to 400 he predicted in a permit for the demonstration.
Meanwhile, over 100 people demonstrated against racism in downtown Charlottesville. The group began marching Sunday morning after a rally held at a city park and made its way toward downtown. Some marchers linked arms as they walked. The group directed chants against police officers who were accompanying the march, including "cops and Klan go hand in hand" and "will you protect us?"
The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, said four people were arrested in incidents marking the anniversary of last summer's violent white nationalist rally.
Authorities said in a statement Sunday that two arrests stemmed from a confrontation near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee where a Spotsylvania, Virginia, man stopped to salute the statue and a Charlottesville woman confronted him and a physical altercation took place. Both face disorderly conduct charges.
Officials said a Charlottesville man who positioned himself in front of police motorcycle units also was arrested, as well as a Portland, Maine, woman following an altercation.
Police in northern Virginia's Fairfax County also reported the arrest of a man accused of spitting on state troopers providing security at a Metro station.
Law enforcement officials faced blistering criticism in the wake of last year's rally for what was perceived as a passive response to the violence that unfolded. White supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the city streets before a car driven into a crowd struck and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.