The Slatest

Unite the Right Organizer Gets Approval for “White Civil Rights” Rally in D.C.

Jason Kessler stands in front of a crowd at a news conference.
Jason Kessler waits to begin a news conference in front of City Hall on Aug. 13, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia—one day after his Unite the Right rally.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An organizer of last year’s Unite the Right rally has received initial approval to host a “white civil rights rally” across from the White House on the weekend of Aug. 11 and 12, the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville that left one counterprotester dead and at least 19 people injured.

The National Park Service has granted initial approval to an application from Jason Kessler for the rally, but it has yet to issue a permit. Kessler, who helped organize the 2017 demonstration with Richard Spencer and others, estimated in his application for the event that as many as 400 people would attend.

The planned August demonstration would be held at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., which is located directly across the street from Pennsylvania Avenue. Kessler also applied to hold a second rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, but the city denied his application over safety concerns, among other reasons. Kessler is suing the city to allow him to have his rally there. If Kessler is successful, he plans to hold rallies in both D.C. and Charlottesville.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Park Service is currently “gathering information” for Kessler’s permit, which will determine the timing, boundaries, and liability rules for the event. According to NPS spokesman Mike Litterst, the agency focuses on “public safety and the protection of park resources” in the review and permitting process, and the government does not “consider the content of the message presented.”

Kessler said in an email interview with the Washington Post that he is holding the rally in D.C.
because he wants to alert Trump and other elected officials to “the civil rights abuse by the Charlottesville government that led to the violence at last year’s rally.”

Kessler’s political gripes center around what he perceives to be discrimination against white people. “We’re not able to peacefully assemble. We’re not able to speak,” Kessler explained to WUSA9, while having just received government approval for the purpose doing both of those things.

Last year’s Unite the Right rally drew hundreds of white nationalists, members of the alt-right, and their supporters to Charlottesville, where they protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park (formerly known as Lee Park). It ended with a self-described Neo-Nazi plowing his car into a group of anti-racist counterprotesters and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. President Trump drew sharp rebukes for his remarks on the events, most notably his condemnation of bigotry and violence on “many sides” and his defense of some of the white supremacist demonstrators as “very fine people.”

Charlottesville was left reeling from the violent rally, which led to the abrupt retirement of the city’s police chief and an apology from the mayor. An independent report concluded that the city was woefully unprepared to handle the chaos that unfolded, and it criticized the city for failing to protect people’s physical safety and uphold their freedom of expression. The report determined that the city had devised a flawed plan to handle the situation, which led to “disastrous results.”

Seth Wispelwey, a United Church of Christ minister in Charlottesville who helped form a faith-based group in the city in response to last year’s hateful demonstration, slammed Kessler’s ideology of “white civil rights” and called for opposition to the planned D.C. demonstration. “The language of white civil rights is cover for white-supremacist ideology,” Wispelwey told the Washington Post. “We also know that if we care about our country’s future we can’t let this fascist plan go forward. I would urge people of conscience to show solidarity with the people of D.C. against this racial terror.”