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DC police chief prepared for possible white nationalist rally near White House

Jason Kessler, an organizer of the "Unite the Right" rally, tries to speak while being shouted down by counterprotesters outside the Charlottesville City Hall on Aug. 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — As D.C. anticipates a planned white nationalist rally to coincide with the August one-year anniversary of the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, D.C.’s police chief is prepared for what’s to come.

“Our role is to make sure we have a First Amendment event that goes on without any types of violence or destruction of property,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said at a Monday news conference. “We intend to have the entire police department engaged to make sure that we handle this type of thing.”

Jason Kessler, an organizer of last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, submitted a request earlier this year to the National Park Service to hold a rally between Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 at Lafayette Square, right in front of the White House.

Kessler’s application got an initial approval last month, but a permit had not been issued yet.

Still, Newsham said the District’s police department is experienced when it comes to potentially volatile rallies.

“We’ve had those types of high-tension assemblies in the District before. We 100 percent are going to make sure that groups remain separate,” Newsham said when asked about what strategies D.C. police might do differently than those employed in Charlottesville.

“The No. 1 role is to make sure nothing gets broken and nobody gets hurt. We will do that.”

Last year in Charlottesville, the clash between white nationalist protesters and anti-racist counterprotesters turned deadly: 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a driver plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters.

For the planned D.C. rally, Newsham added, “We intend for these folks to come to express their First Amendment rights and to leave without incident.”

The city of Charlottesville denied Kessler’s request to hold an anniversary event, prompting him to file a federal lawsuit against the city. But, last week, Kessler dropped his federal court challenge and has, instead, decided to focus on the rally in D.C.

Charlottesville still expects some crowds as the rally’s anniversary approaches, and has taken measures to prevent future violence.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report. 


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