By Glynn Wilson –
WASHINGTON, D.C. – White conservative activists for Trump rallied for “free speech” on the National Mall on Sunday while counter demonstrators held their own rally higher up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in objection to “hate speech,” chanting “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
To observers of all stripes, freedom of speech was alive and well in America, including a number of Japanese tourists who had fun taking selfies in front of the so-called neo-Nazis or white nationalists.
According to early reporting by Reuters, the rally “attracted only a few dozen supporters, with nearly as many counter-protesters,” which the mainstream media outlet said “contrasted with recent marches that have filled U.S. cities with hundreds of thousands of people protesting Trump policies they believe harm immigrants, women and other groups.”
Richard Spencer, an avowed white nationalist and one of the alleged founders of the so-called “alt-right” movement, drew about 100 supporters to the rally at the Lincoln Memorial, Reuters reported, “a monument to the president associated with the end of slavery in the United States.”
In remarks to reporters before his speech, Spencer said he was disappointed with Trump’s presidency so far, and was waiting for the president to enact the policies he promised during his campaign.
“Where’s the Muslim ban?” said Spencer, who following Trump’s election victory and was filmed saying “Hail Trump” and drawing Nazi-like salutes at a conference. “Where’s the wall?” he asked, referring to Trump’s plan to increase barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico.
As Spencer addressed the crowd, two protesters unfurled a banner in front of him that read: “NO LONGER SILENT WE WILL BE HEARD.”
Speakers led the crowd in chants of “Unite the Right,” as counter-protesters heckled from the sidelines, Reuters reported.
My own count estimated the crowd size at about 150, but that included random tourists walking up to see what was going on and perhaps members of the National Park Police, which were there to protect all sides and keep the peace.
There was no violence at the rallies, but at one point, Jason Kessler, one of the white advocates from Charlottesville, Virginia, who walked down the steps of the memorial carrying a large Confederate battle flag, was confronted by a local African-American man named Don on a bicycle who said he leads black history tours in D.C.
“Your history can’t be nothing without my history,” the man said, putting Kessler on Facebook Live.
“We set you free. We didn’t start slavery, we ended it, and you should be grateful for that,” Kessler responded.
“Who is we?” the man asked.
“White people,” Kessler said.
When urged to take a black history tour and learn about black history, Kessler’s voice shook as he shouted, “I’ve heard enough about black history. That’s all we hear about in our schools… I don’t care about black history in D.C. I care about the history of my people. I support your right to acknowledge your history. So why do you have a problem with me acknowledging mine?”
Kessler tried to change the subject by asking about Abraham Lincoln and pointing up at the monument.
“Do you think he was a great emancipator? The only thing Abraham Lincoln did was end slavery in the South,” Kessler said, showing his ignorance of American history. “He kept slavery in the North. The Civil War was a war of Northern Aggression, plain and simple. “
Lincoln not only signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, he worked with Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish it once and for all time.
“If it was not for black people, Confederates would not have a damn history,” the man said.
“White people founded this country,” Kessler retorted.
In an interview, Kessler said he considers himself a “white advocate,” and he supports Trump because “he was a big step forward for free speech.” He says “political correctness constricted people” in what they could say and “had people walking around on egg shells.”
“Trump, the way that he just came out unscripted and said what was on his mind did a great service for people to speak their minds,” he said.
But when asked why he thinks free speech is under attack, when he is allowed to stand on the steps of the historic Lincoln Memorial where many great speakers including Martin Luther King Jr. have stood and say what he wanted, he attacked “liberals” for pushing to take down statues celebrating Confederate heroes of the Civil War in New Orleans, Charlottesville, Virginia, and other places.
“That’s a form of free speech,” he said.
He also pointed to people opposing Richard Spencer and others like himself speaking at Berkeley and other places, claiming “their speech is violence.”
Kessler claimed he did not grow up as a “redneck” who thought the Confederate battle flag was his “heritage.”
“But when they started to attack the Robert E. Lee monument and tear that down, I saw that as an attack on not just Southern people but all white people,” he said.
When a local white guy on a bicycle approached Kessler and pointed out that millions of Americans see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and oppression, he said, “They can hate away. This is my heritage. These are my people. I’m going to fight with them.”
Other speakers at the rally said things like “racism is not a real word (see video).”
An activist with the socialist alternative higher up the steps responded to the claims about free speech being under attack by explaining that hate speech is not protected speech.
“They use it as a way to appeal to liberal audiences to allow for a platform for their hate speech,” he said. “It keeps them from opposing the actual hate speech coming out of these rallies. So it’s a very strategic play, but that’s one of the reasons why we are here today is to show that we don’t agree with that type of thinking. We want to challenge that and say this is actually hate speech. It’s not free speech because what it does is embolden racists to violent acts.”
On the question of their support for President Donald Trump, he said: “Having Donald Trump in the White House — an open bigot — emboldens these racists.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.