Baltimore activists heading to Washington to stand against white supremacy

The reason Ralikh Hayes is going to Washington is simple. It’s vital, he says, to resist the rise of fascism and white supremacy in America.

Hayes will join other Baltimore activists in traveling to the nation’s capital Sunday for a counterprotest they anticipate will dwarf the white supremacist event also scheduled for this weekend. The demonstrations will take place on the one-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“We’re going down there to defend, uplift and outshine,” said Hayes, a 25-year-old from West Baltimore who is the co-coordinator of Black Leaders Organizing for Change.

A number of Maryland-based organizations will attend the counterprotests, including Maryland Antifa and Our Revolution’s Prince George’s County chapter.

At the same time, Jason Kessler will be leading Unite the Right 2 in front of the White House. Kessler, who also organized the Charlottesville rally, predicted 400 attendees in his permit application, but turnout could be much lower. Several white nationalist leaders have disavowed Sunday's rally and asked their followers not to attend.

Members of the coalition leading a counterprotest said on their website that Aug. 12, 2017, was the day their lives were “forever changed.” White supremacists and neo-Nazis marched on the college town, chanting phrases like, “Jews will not replace us.” A white man assaulted a black man in a parking garage. A former Maryland KKK leader fired a gun during the chaos, striking no one but prompting screams from onlookers.

The hate turned fatal: A man allegedly affiliated with white supremacists has been accused of driving a car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Charlottesville police were widely criticized for how they handled last year’s rally. Washington officials have pledged to prevent violence, and promised a massive security mobilization to keep the groups apart.

Hayes said he isn’t too worried about his safety.

“We have folks trained to de-escalate those situations, if they happen,” he said. “I’m sure some folks are nervous but we know we can protect each other.”

Daniel Levine, another Baltimore man heading to the counterprotest, agreed. And regardless of any risk, he said, it’s important for people to stand up to the ideals of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“Fascist movements have historically thrived on intimidation,” Levine, 41, said. “Making sure people see that there are a lot of folks coming out against this is a powerful message.”

He said it’s especially important for people who are white, like him, to attend.

“These people are claiming to speak on behalf of white people,” Levine said. “It’s important for white people to show up and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not with those guys. They don’t speak for me.’”

In a recent interview with NPR, Kessler said he did not want neo-Nazis at the rally. He called himself a “human rights advocate focusing on the under-represented Caucasian demographic” and said the Aug. 12 demonstration was about standing up for the First Amendment.

A Unite the Right 2 website asks demonstrators not to bring weapons. But they are instructed to bring an American or Confederate flag.

Gov. Larry Hogan and his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous both issued statements condemning the rally.

Hogan said he’s directed Maryland state agencies to coordinate with their Washington and Virginia counterparts to ensure all are safe.

“Hate has no place in our society, and these white supremacists and the racism and bigotry they spew are not welcome in our state – today, this weekend, or ever,” Hogan said Friday.

Jealous said it’s important for people to drown out hateful voices as white supremacists “descend on Maryland's doorstep.”

“From the abolitionist work of Marylanders like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Maryland has always been a state of courageous leaders fighting to push our nation forward,” he said. “Now is the time for us to summon the same courage and stand up against hate, so that we leave our children a future where the racist beliefs of white supremacist are no more."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

trichman@baltsun.com

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