Far-Right Rally Fizzles on Sizzling D.C. Pavement

(Photo: Adele Stan)

A gaggle of far-right political activists, members of the Proud Boys, and hundreds of supporters gathered in downtown Washington, D.C., on Saturday for a rally that sought to highlight personalities who have been banned from various social media and payment-processing platforms for violating community guidelines, who demanded that they have their accounts reinstated on the grounds of “free speech.” The rally took place on one of the hottest days of the year at the shadeless Freedom Plaza, which is across the street from the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Despite organizers’ estimate, as stated on a permit application, that they expected up to 1,000 people to attend their rally, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Gavin McInnes and other far-right speakers took to the stage to address no more than a few hundred people and plug new websites and endeavors they have launched since their social media bans marginalized them in the broader conservative movement. However, The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer reported that the “free speech” message from the stage “was often overshadowed by threats of violence from the rally’s other speakers and a booming rival demonstration nearby,” where counter-demonstrators gathered and held a go-go dance party.

Coming on the heels of an altercation in Portland between antifascists and Quillette writer Andy Ngo the prior weekend, tensions flared leading up to the rally. Right-wing social media stars circulated unverified claims that they had received threats from antifascists of acid attacks and other violence ahead of the rally. Speaking of a counter-demonstration taking place nearby, Yiannopoulos warned attendees of the right-wing rally that there were “400 people a block or two away who want you dead;” those allegedly murderous counter-demonstrators, Yiannapoulos said, get their cues on who to attack from journalists. He told the crowd, “There’s every chance that someone will beat the shit out of you on your way home.” Photographs and videos from the day’s events show many rally attendees at the perimeter of the rally, attempting to heckle and goad their opposition.

Scuffles were anticipated, but never materialized; Washington police strictly enforced a barrier between groups gathered at Saturday’s rally and yanked otherwise eager provocateurs out of crowds before situations escalated. Photos taken outside the event did show Washington police officers behaving approvingly toward members of the Proud Boys.

The small eclectic collection of attendees included a group of demonstrators making claims that various famous celebrities and political figures had been secretly murdered, QAnon supporters, and Infowars fans, who stood on the swath of heat-radiating pavement that is Freedom Plaza while speakers bemoaned their lost status as influencers. One speaker, Greg Aselbekian, spent minutes screaming about being banned from the dating app Tinder.

The rally also attracted a handful of people representing the further extremes of the right-wing movement. Inside the rally, one man held a sign that said “Jews own USA.” He was permitted to attend the rally until Loomer, who is Jewish, took the stage, after which he was ejected from the event. Unabashed neo-Nazi and former Proud Boys member Jovanni Valle, aka “Jovi Val,” made an appearance at the rally but was likewise escorted out by organizers.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the “Demand Free Speech” rally in Washington on July 6, 2019. (Photo: Adele Stan)

Right Wing Watch reported last week that the white nationalist group Identity Evropa (now calling itself American Identity Movement) had discussed attending Saturday’s rally. However, the organization canceled its plans in Washington after Unicorn Riot published a new database of leaks from the group’s internal chat logs.

Adele Stan contributed reporting to this article.

(Updated: 5:40 p.m.)