Less than a year after deadly clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the main organizer has gained federal approval for another demonstration — across the street from the White House.
The National Park Service announced Wednesday it had approved the “white civil rights” rally for Lafayette Square the weekend of Aug. 11-12. That is the anniversary of the “Unite the Right” protest, which sparked a national furor with its blatant displays of racism. President Trump amplified the controversy when he initially failed to condemn the white supremacists.
In the request he submitted on May 8, Jason Kessler, who was behind the Charlottesville rally, estimated that 400 people would attend and said the purpose was to protest “civil rights abuse in Charlottesville.”
The park service is now gathering information from Kessler to issue a permit for the demonstration, said agency spokesman Mike Litterst. The permit would specify the timing, boundaries, sound regulations and liability rules for the event.
Litterst said the process “will ensure public safety and the protection of park resources are taken into consideration” and noted that the government does not “consider the content of the message presented.”
Lafayette Square sits just north of the White House, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Charlottesville rally — organized to protest the removal of Confederate monuments — was one of the largest U.S. gatherings of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremist groups in more than a decade.
Clashes broke out between hundreds of anti-racism activists and far-right protesters, many of whom carried shields, weapons and Nazi and Confederate battle flags. Videos showed that some Charlottesville police did nothing to stop the violence.
One anti-racist activist, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed when a car plowed into her. The driver, Alex Fields Jr., 20, a self-described Nazi from Ohio, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Two Virginia state troopers who were monitoring protesters also died after their helicopter crashed. Dozens of others were injured as fights broke out between opposing sides.
Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence and said “some very fine people” were among the white supremacist marchers. In response, activists held anti-racism marches and vigils in cities across the country.
After Heyer’s death, Kessler tweeted that she was a “was a fat, disgusting Communist” whose death was “payback.” He later took back the statement, saying he had written it while under the influence of alcohol, Ambien and Xanax.
The statement drew condemnations from even his most extreme allies, including white nationalist Richard Spencer, who led a tiki torch march on the University of Virginia the night before Kessler’s rally.
Kessler, who did not reply to an email requesting comment, has failed in his attempt to also organize an anniversary rally in Charlottesville for the same weekend. He is suing the city for denying his permit request and says it has violated his 1st Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.
The federal park service frequently approves rally applications, including those from unpopular groups. Last summer, the far-right group Patriot Prayer— described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-government organization — gained a permit for a rally in San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, though it never held the event.
But some recent applications have been denied. Last October, the park service said it would not give a permit to a group that wanted to erect a 45-foot statue of a naked woman on the National Mall because the statue would block monuments and could damage grass.