Transportation officials preparing for a “white civil rights” rally being organized outside the White House next weekend are considering segregating participants and counterprotesters on separate subway cars, the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said Friday.
“We have groups clearly at odds with each other,” said Metro board chair Jack Evans. “We’d like to keep the groups separate. We don’t want incidents on Metro.”
“Maybe put all of one group on a train or a certain car on a train,” he told the local NBC affiliate. “We’re trying to see how can we keep the groups separate so we don’t have any incidents but not put in place programs that could be problematic in the future.”
Scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 12., the event falls on the first anniversary of last year’s violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where fights between far-right participants and opposing demonstrators culminated in the death of a counterprotester, Heather Heyer.
Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler, the organizer of last summer’s rally, has received preliminary approval from the National Park Service to hold the event at Lafayette Park outside the White House, raising safety concerns throughout the region given last year’s outcome.
“Planning this event is an incredibly complex logistical challenge,” Mr. Kessler told The Washington Times. “Even though I’m not qualified to comment on all the strategies, I have confidence that law enforcement is doing everything they can to protect public safety surrounding the demonstration,” he said Saturday.
Mr. Evans confirmed the possibility of providing separate subway cars to participants and counterprotesters after Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, issued a statement Friday opposing the option.
“Local 689 is proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C. including the March of Life, the Women’s March and Black Lives Matters. We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech,” the union said in a statement.
A self-described “white civil rights activist, Mr. Kessler sought permission to rally at Lafayette Park near the White House after the city of Charlottesville refused to grant him a permit for the same date, citing public safety concerns. He sued Charlottesville over the rejection in federal court, but he abandoned that litigation on Thursday when his attorney filed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal.
In paperwork filed with park officials, Mr. Kessler, 34, wrote that Sunday’s “white civil rights” rally is being held in part to protest “civil rights abuses in Charlottesville.”
“You can see D.C. police repeating the most important goal again and again, ‘Keep the sides separate.’ If Charlottesville had done that when I asked them to last year no one would have gotten hurt and we would have had a successful rally,” he said Saturday.
In an email earlier this week, Mr. Kessler told people interested in attending the D.C. rally to meet at a subway station in northern Virginia rather than gathering at Lafayette Park.
“Law enforcement has assured me that agitators will be kept apart at a safe distance,” he wrote. “Law enforcement are there to help both sides safely express their rights (hopefully).”
Heyer, 32, died after an individual identified as a “Unite the Right” participant allegedly drove their car into a crowd of counterprotesters, according to police. James Alex Fields, a 21-year-old Ohio man, has been charged with multiple federal hate crime counts in connection with her death, among other charges.
A report commissioned by the city of Charlottesville previously found that law enforcement’s failures in preparation, communication and command-and-control contributed to the chaos surrounding last year’s event.