Authorities said Washington, D.C., law enforcement is prepared to handle any clashes between right-wing rallygoers and anti-fascist counterprotesters in the nation’s capital.
The protests come a week after violence in Portland that included members of the left-wing antifa assaulting journalist Andy Ngo, sending him to the hospital.
The Quillette writer said his injuries gave him a brain hemorrhage. Portland’s mayor and police came under heavy criticism for not doing more to control the violence during the demonstrations.
D.C. officials are confident there won’t be a repeat this weekend when the “Rally for Free Speech” and “All Out D.C.” protests occur.
Because the two groups will be holding demonstrations on National Park Service grounds, the U.S. Park Police will take the lead.
When asked whether the U.S. Park Police were ready to prevent possible clashes between the two groups, U.S. Park Police information officer Sgt. Eduardo Delgado told the Washington Examiner, “Yes, absolutely.”
“This isn’t new for us or for MPD. These things tend to always migrate to D.C., so we’re very familiar with these kinds of situations,” he said.
The U.S. Park Police plans to set up physical barriers such as bike fencing that will help divide the demonstrators, he said.
“Our goal is for everyone to be safe, to be happy, to do their demonstrations, and then go home,” Delgado said.
A public information officer told the Washington Examiner that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department is coordinating with Park Police.
“I can assure you that our special operations division is equipped to handle First Amendment assemblies of any stature.”
The “Rally for Free Speech” or “Demand Free Speech” rally will be held at noon Saturday on Freedom Plaza and is being organized in part by leaders of the Proud Boys, a right-wing group of provocateurs and self-described “Western chauvinists.”
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, is listed as a speaker and is also on the National Park Service permit as the superior for the event. Tarrio has said that while he attended the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, he was no longer in attendance when violence broke out and James Fields Jr. drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer.
The rally’s featured guests and speakers reportedly include Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos, both who have been banned from a variety of social media platforms, the group’s founder Gavin McInnes, and Roger Stone, a former informal Trump adviser who is facing charges for lying, obstruction, and witness tampering brought by special counsel Robert Mueller
Luke Rohfling, another Proud Boys member and event organizer, said the group wouldn’t seek confrontation with antifa.
“We’re going to go there and have a fun time,” he told the Daily Beast.
The counterprotest, ” All Out D.C.,” which starts at 10 a.m. at nearby Pershing Park, is being organized by an assortment of antifa groups and other left-wing activists such as Black Lives Matter D.C., Smash Racism D.C., and Occupy Wall Street, and is billed as “mobilization against white nationalism and the alt-right.”
While leaders of the left-wing organizations said their members wouldn’t start violence, they are prepared to react.
“We are looking to uplift and protect our community as one,” Carlos Chavarría, one of the organizers, told the Washington Post. “But we are prepared for them to try to start a fight with us, to come to our action and try to instigate something.”
Following last weekend’s violence, there were renewed calls from some on the Right to have the masked street group labeled a domestic terrorist organization.
The Department of Homeland Security had reportedly previously labeled antifa a domestic terrorist group, but neither DHS nor the FBI would confirm any such designation with the Washington Examiner.
A DHS official told the Washington Examiner on Friday that it works to “assess threats and analyze trends in activity from all violent extremist groups regardless of ideology” and that it is “committed to preventing all forms of terrorism.”
An FBI spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that “the FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security” but that that investigation isn’t based on the exercise of First Amendment rights.
“When an individual takes violent action based on belief or ideology and breaks the law, the FBI will enforce the rule of law,” the spokesman said.
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