As officials in the U.S. capital of Washington and in the neighboring state of Virginia brace for the first anniversary of a white nationalist rally that exploded in deadly violence, U.S. President Donald Trump Saturday issued a plea for unity.
“We must come together as a nation,” Trump wrote on Twitter from his golf club in New Jersey. “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Trump added he has “fought” to improve the lives of minorities and vowed “I will never stop fighting for ALL Americans!”
The president’s response to last year’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, drew intense criticism when he declared at a Trump Tower news conference that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
DC mayor pledges ‘every resource’
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday she signed an order to escalate emergency operations in preparation of the rally that is scheduled to take place Sunday at Lafayette Square, a park across the street from the White House. Counter-demonstrators also have permits to assemble at the park, as well as at nearby locations.
“It means that I’m making available every resource … to ensure that we have safe events,” she said at a news conference that was held at a Washington synagogue.
“We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate,” Bowser added. “We denounce hate. We denounce anti-Semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric we expect to hear this Sunday.”
Washington police chief Peter Newsham said firearms will be prohibited at the rallies, even for gun owners with legal licenses.
“Officers will be on high alert for anyone who will be carrying a firearm,” he warned. Newsham said the white nationalists and counterprotesters.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and city officials in Charlottesville announced a state of emergency would be in effect Friday through Sunday in that city and parts of Northern Virginia, outside Washington.
Northam described the state of emergency as an “administrative tool” to quickly mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, if there are violent outbreaks.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said more than 700 troopers will be on duty over the weekend and will be “fully prepared to act” to prevent violence.
The “Unite the Right” rally in a Charlottesville park was organized in 2017 by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups to protest plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army during the U.S. Civil War.
The rally attracted counter protesters, and clashes quickly broke out between the two groups. Thirty-two-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by self-described white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., who rammed a car into a crowd at high speed.
Two Virginia state troopers who were monitoring the rally were later killed in the line of duty when their helicopter crashed.
U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy criticized the performance of Charlottesville officials and the state police, saying they “failed to ‘stand up’ to protect human life.”
Several events are scheduled in Charlottesville to observe what happened last year and promote racial healing.
The organizer of last year’s rally, Jason Kessler, had vowed to hold a rally in a park near the White House on August 12 after Charlottesville denied him a permit.
Charlottesville is some 187 kilometers from Washington, but officials and opponents of the white nationalist rally fear some protesters may travel to Washington or parts of nearby Northern Virginia.
“If something happens in Washington, it can easily affect Northern Virginia,” Northam told Richmond-based WRVA radio station on Wednesday.
“We are treating this as a statewide event,” said Virginia Department of Emergency Management coordinator Jeff Stern.