right-wing groups began Activists On Saturday morning, they gathered at the Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington, where they encountered a strong police presence when they protested about being blocked in the social media because of their political views.
About two dozen members of the Proud Boys, a self-styled Western chauvinist fraternal group that believes in ending welfare and closing borders, marched into the park shortly after 10:00.
The police had closed many roads around the square and the adjacent Pershing Park, where counter-demonstrators gathered under the banner "All Out DC". They organize a dance and go-go party to drown out what they call the "face of white nationalism and domination."
The area around Freedom Plaza, however, was heavily barricaded. There was free access to Pershing Park. Among those scheduled to attend the counter-rally are Antifa, black-clad antifascists blamed for violence and destruction in part of downtown during the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017.
Police are trying to avoid a repeat of last month's bloody street brawls in Portland, Oregon, involving members of these two groups. Even hours before the event on Saturday, DC and the US park police had closed the two parks on Pennsylvania Avenue on either side of 14th Street east of the White House.
Massive dump trucks blocked Pennsylvania Avenue at 12th Street and 15th Street. in the southeast and southwest corners of the square, along with police cars with flashing lights.
During the rallies, restaurants were still opening in the area, including Occidental and Cafe du Parc. Occidental waiters displayed glasses and cutlery, and at Cafe du Parc, guests ate biscuits and drank a big coffee as they watched the preparations.
Representatives from both sides of the event on Saturday in the district said they did not want to give any impetus but were willing to answer. The authorities said they were also ready.
"This is not uncommon here in Washington, DC, so we'll be ready for it," said DC Chief of Police Peter Newsham earlier this week.
Until 11:30, both demonstrations were underway, and the several hundred counter-demonstrators seemed far superior to those on the Freedom Plaza.
Proud Boys in their trademark black and yellow polo shirts – as well as several in red MAGA hats and some in both – gathered at their side of the blockade to yell at a small group of counter-demonstrators on the other side.
A man holding a phone held his hands over his mouth and shouted something that made his comrades sneer.
But the police cordon had done his job. Nobody on the other side could hear a word of what he said.
"What was that?" Asked black-clad Antifa members.
Early in the morning, the two groups had more direct contact. A counter-protestor began a heated debate with a small group of Proud Boys and their supporters on the Freedom Plaza.
Rick Ferran, one of the scheduled speakers at the Demand Free Speech Rally, said his organization "United States Misguided Children" had been repeatedly hit by Facebook. He interrupted the dispute with a jeremiad against socialism and communism. Ferran, a Cuban immigrant with a shaved head, was sweating heavily as the July sun set.
"If we do not attack the cancer that is destroying our freedoms in this land, we will disintegrate," he said. In the midst of intensive exchanges, the police widened the gap between the two groups.
"We're just trying to avoid everything," said DC police officer RA Gonzalez.
NeeNee Taylor, an organizer for Black Lives Matter DC, urged the crowd of Pershing Park to remain non-violent.
"We are not here for violence," she said to her audience, which included members of the Sanctuary DMV and the anti-gentrification organization Keep DC 4 Me. "We are here to celebrate black and brown and marginalized people."
The right-wing groups gathered under the slogan "Demand Freedom of Speech," and this was the last of three rallies – the first two took place in New York and San Francisco – around a wave of social media companies that banish right personalities from their platforms.
Luke Rohlfing, chairman and organizer of Proud Boys, told The Daily Beast that the event is also aimed at left-wing anti-fascists Activists have bloodied, shaken, and crushed conservative writer Andy Ngo following the violent clash in Portland last week vegan milkshake dipped.
The district is well acquainted with demonstrators. In the summer of 2018, Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the violent and deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Washington, voted for a jubilee demonstration. Fewer than 40 of the planned 400 supporters showed and were outnumbered by thousands of demonstrators who "Go home, Nazis!" And "no trump!" Cried. No KKK! No fascist USA!
A massive police presence divided the two sides, and despite a brief clash between some Antifa members and the police, there were no reports of violence long after the rally ended.
The Planned List The speakers of the Freedom Plaza Rally on Saturday showed some notable personalities, though police said it was unclear who would come among the listed guests. These included Milo Yiannopoulos, a firefighter who helped make Breitbart News one of the leading organs of the right, and whose performances have provoked strong reactions in cities and at universities.
On the list was also the right-wing journalist Laura Loomer. Proud Boys' founder Gavin McInnes and Jack Posobiec are known to drive a number of conspiracy theories, including those involving "Pizzagate" and the assassination of Seth Rich, a member of the Democratic National Committee, in a robbery in the district of Related.
The rally took place two days after President Trump's controversial "Salute to America" on July 4, which included fireworks, a speech by the President, and a show of military vehicles, tanks, and plane overflights.
Fear of violence between Trump supporters and critics did not materialize, although there were some minor clashes in the mall and a fight in the White House after a member of a Communist group set fire to two American flags in Pennsylvania ,
Clarence Williams and Marissa J. Lang contributed to this report.