Resistance to the far right takes shape in D.C.

June 27, 2017

Richard Capron and Donnie D. report from Washington, D.C., about how anti-racists responded to the emergence of the far right with a series of mobilizations.

"NO NAZIS, no KKK, no fascist USA!" rang out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on June 25 as a newly formed coalition held a "D.C. United Against Hate" rally.

The anti-racists called the rally to protest an assemblage of "alt-right" hate groups at the reflecting pool on the National Mall. Among the "notables" attending the right-wing rally was white supremacist Richard Spencer, as well as new fascist groups linked to the violent clashes in Berkeley, California.

The bigots claimed to be standing for "free speech" by holding their rally. But as many signs and speakers at the counterdemonstration made clear, such groups have twisted the idea of freedom.

At an open mic, participants in the D.C. United Against Hate rally made connections between the election of Donald Trump and the sudden surge in growth and visibility of a variety of far-right organizations and individuals. While such groups cynically espouse the cause of "free speech," in reality, they are spreading hate speech and inciting violence.

Protesters confront a far-right demonstration in Washington, D.C.
Protesters confront a far-right demonstration in Washington, D.C. (Stephen D. Melkisethian | flickr)

THE RALLY against the far right took was only built through the concerted efforts of activists.

The D.C. area in particular has witnessed an increase in incidents of racist violence and intimidation over the past 18 months. These include the stabbing in May of Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland (UMD) campus by an individual with affiliations to the "alt-right"--and the murder of Nabra Hassanen, a Muslim teenager, outside of a mosque in suburban Virginia earlier in June.

Additionally, nooses and white supremacist posters have been left or posted at various museums, campuses and communities in the area.

Collins, a graduating senior at Bowie State University, was murdered on May 20 while he was visiting UMD's College Park campus. He was stabbed to death by a white UMD student, Sean Urbanski, who was active in the Facebook group "Alt-Reich Nation."

Following Collins' murder, the D.C. United Against Hate Coalition came together to hold a town hall meeting on June 6, endorsed by groups that included the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC), Circle of Love and Support, Code Pink, International Socialist Organization, Jewish Voice for Peace-DC Metro, Protect UMD and the Washington Peace Center.

What you can do

The next meeting of the D.C. United Against Hate Coalition will be July 15. E-mail [email protected] for details.

At that event, a multiracial group of more than 100 residents came together at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ to hear a panel of speakers addressing not only the shameful modern-day lynching of Richard Collins, but the climate of racist intimidation, locally and nationally, as the far right has been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump.

Organizers expressed solidarity with others resisting hate--particularly in Portland, where a white supremacist stabbed to death two men and critically injured a third when they stood up to him as he berated two young women of color on a commuter train.

On June 4, several thousand people came out to stand against a far-right rally, also supposedly to defend "free speech." The reactionaries were outnumbered, and activists showed the importance of mass mobilization to send a message against hate.

Collins' murder occurred during a tumultuous year on the UMD campus. At the town hall, student organizers Yanette, of Protect UMD and the executive chair of UMD's NAACP chapter, and Isabella, of the UMD Socialists, spoke about the tense climate, which the UMD administration had tolerated.

Yanette spoke about how Collins' murder affected her personally, as well as other incidents on campus--from racist rhetoric written in chalk by a group calling itself "Terps for Trump," to a noose found on April 27 in the kitchen of a fraternity--an act of intimidation against kitchen staff. When UMD students presented a series of demands to the administration to address this racist climate, however, the university ignored them.

Isabella reiterated that the time for "dialogue" was over, with the right wing and the university both saying they weren't interested in listening. "These racists will not go away if we ignore them and will use any opportunity to advance themselves. We will not tolerate them any longer," she stated.

FOLLOWING A moment of silence led by UMD students and alumni, Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth UCC spoke abut the importance of everyone in D.C. standing against racist intimidation:

Just because you are not Black, don't think you are not exempt from it. Just because you are not Latino, don't think you are exempt from it. Just because you are not Muslim, don't think you are exempt from it. Because one thing that happens with racism, hatred and xenophobia is that eventually you are going to be included in the circle as those who are in power will use racism and division to advance their own power.

Hagler told the crowd that power lies in our numbers, united, pushing against the attempts by media and politicians to repackage the racism that has been present in the U.S. since its founding. Like civil rights activists Mamie Till and Fannie Lou Hamer, Hagler said we need to push anti-racist politics and organizing to the forefront of U.S. society and oppose the continuation of a system that seeks to divide us.

The so-called "alt-right," he said, can be taken on with mass action. We should not be intimidated in our efforts to "create a country that we are all united in the bond of justice, in the spirit of hope, and in the spirit of peace."

Shujaa Graham, a death row exoneree and activist who survived four trials, was freed because of the efforts of student activists who organized for his freedom. He has continued to organize against a racist system that nearly took his life.

"I'm here in spite of the system," he said, "I'm here due to the determination and dedication of the people. We can either stand up collectively with the possibility of winning, or we can fall individually to the collective blow by Donald Trump."

Beverly Smith, a D.C. resident and organizer who lost her son Alonzo Smith to police brutality, spoke about the necessity of organizing against not just the right wing, but the larger system that upholds racist ideas:

If you have not joined an organization that isn't fighting this systemic racist judicial system, I hope you do so as soon as tomorrow. It is very important that we join together--Black, white, LGBT, Muslim, Asian--to fight this racist judicial system. We are fighting a system that needs to be dismantled. When we fight together, there is strength, and when we come together we have power.

Brian Jones, of the International Socialist Organization, spoke about bigots attempting intimidate, dissuade and demoralize leftists from organizing, describing how Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel speaking events due to threats against her and her family after Fox News ran a story about a commencement speech at Hampshire College where Taylor had criticized Donald Trump.

Jones said the right was trying to:

get people to think that if you go to a demonstration you are risking your life. We want to create large safe demonstrations in enormous numbers where people feel their power. This is against the idea of a small band our heroes can defeat their small band of zeros. We have to organize ourselves in the largest numbers.

IN THE days following the town hall event, attendees began to organize a counterdemonstration against the far-right "free speech" rally set for June 25.

The organizers of the D.C. United Against Hate counter-rally had three goals: to oppose the hatred and bigotry of the far right with a counterdemonstration in the same location; to bring out the largest numbers possible; and to begin building lasting organization.

Dozens of people from D.C., Virginia and Maryland met regularly, leafleted, gave TV and radio interviews, and organized in the run-up to the rally.

Tragically, in the midst of this organizing, another racist killing took place the D.C. area. Seventeen-year-old Nabra Hassanen was abducted and beaten to death after returning with a group of friends from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society center in Sterling, Virginia. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, officials declared that Hassanen was not the victim of a hate crime.

At the counterprotest, the 150 activists who turned out to unite against hate chanted "Nazis out!" at the bigots rallying on the National Mall. Throughout the event, passersby stopped to thank the counterprotesters for being out to oppose the far right and expressed support.

Participants in the crowd expressed hopes for the continued growth of the United Against Hate Coalition. "It's good to organize. We can't sit back and let this happen," said an activist named Linda.

The town hall and the rally were just the first steps in building the fight against racism, Islamophobia and bigotry of all kinds--which a D.C. organizer named Michael underlined by quoting the famous words of anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Further Reading

From the archives