WASHINGTON - Local and federal authorities are bracing for a potentially tumultuous day on Sunday in downtown Washington, D.C. as a white nationalist group marks the one-year anniversary of a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one counterprotester and two police officers dead.
Security preparations are underway in the District and around the region for this weekend's Unite the Right rally. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham and other officials met Thursday to outline their plans ahead of the weekend.
Bowser announced she signed an order that allows the activation of the District's Emergency Operations Center.
"As the nation’s capital, we host millions of visitors each year. Fortunately, very, very few share the views that will be expressed in Lafayette Park on Sunday. Washington, DC is a city of love, inclusion, and diversity, and – like millions of Americans across the nation – we know that the people who are coming here to profess hate and sow division are wrong," she said in a statement. "This weekend, and every day going forward, we will ensure that the world knows that no matter how much attention these people demand, that they will never represent the values of our city or our nation."
"The Metropolitan Police Department facilitates safe demonstrations on a daily basis," Newsham said. "Our intentions are to continue to value the First Amendment rights of everyone in the District of Columbia without compromising the safety of participants or bystanders."
Newsham said anywhere from one to 400 demonstrators from Unite the Right are expected in Lafayette Park on Sunday. In addition to the Unite the Right rally, several counterprotest groups, both permitted and non-permitted, are expected to demonstrate.
National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told FOX 5 that one permit has been issued to Jason Kessler, the main organizer of the Unite the Right event. At least two other counter-demonstration group permits were also issued. Litterst says he does not believe anything will keep the additional pending permits from being issued.
"I'm very confident that their plans are in place and that they'll be effective," said D.C. Councilmember Mary Chen, who was briefed by Newsham earlier this week."The key ingredient, and the chief kept emphasizing this, is to keep the two groups apart, and they fully intend to do that."
Chen said the region's police forces are ready for Sunday's rallies and that she believes Newsham has officers fully prepared.
"They feel that they have adequate number of officers to do that and I felt quite reassured after his briefing," said Chen.