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Left Debates Tactics In Confronting ‘Unite the Right 2’ In D.C.

The organizers of the coming weekend’s “Unite the Right 2” event say it’s a “rally.” Certain Jewish counter-protesters call it something very different — a “pogrom” — and they do so for a very specific reason.

A wide range of Jewish and anti-hate organizations are planning to participate in events opposing the August 12 march, which is a sequel to last year’s events in Charlottesville, where armed neo-Nazis menaced the synagogue on Shabbat and anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer was fatally mowed down.

But not all of them are using language that’s so heavy with historical meaning: A pogrom is a massacre and the word applies to the Jews of Russia and eastern Europe, the ancestral homeland of most American Jews. For hundreds of years, Jews have lamented their helplessness in the face of racial violence. Now that its threat has reemerged in the United States, the community is divided on the question of how to face it: Treat it like a pogrom and fight back if necessary, or protest peacefully.

The source of the “pogrom” metaphor is Muslim-Jewish anti-fascist group MuJew Antifa, whose Facebook page says, “We will … be at the frontlines in DC Sunday to shut down Unite the Right 2 and stop the next pogrom before it starts.”

A D.C.-based anti-fascist organizer told the Forward they were “hoping for minimal violence,” but added they also had a moral obligation for “disrupting their ability to be Nazis and to grow their movement.”

The organizer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by white supremacists, pointed toward neo-Nazi Richard Spencer saying he planned to suspend his “alt-right” speaking tour after confrontations with Antifa protesters as evidence of their success.

He added that Heyer’s death motivated a lot of people for the need of continued resistance.

“A lot of people were seriously injured. That’s heavy to realize you were the target of a terrorist attack,” the organizer said. “[It’s] angering and motivating.”

To be sure, the debate about tactics may be moot in D.C. as the police are planning a much larger presence than the force in Charlottesville and experts who track hate groups did not expect as large a turnout on the right.

Doron Ezickson, who leads the Anti-Defamation League’s D.C. office, said he feels direct confrontation is ethically questionable and counterproductive: “We‘ve always maintained that by trying to counter-protest in a way that is violent is not consisted with our values, and risks elevating the message of white supremacist and risks making them seem larger.”

Unite the Right protesters plan to march from the Foggy Bottom metro station at about 5 p.m. Sunday to Lafayette Square across from the White House, where they will rally for several hours.

Charlottesville organizer Jason Kessler was given initial approval by the National Parks Service for the anniversary rally.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said they were prepared to handle the protesters and ensure there wasn’t a repeat of last year’s violence.

“We’ve had those types of high-tension assemblies in the District before. We 100 percent are going to make sure that groups remain separate,” Newsham said.

Jewish Community Relations Council director Guila Franklin Siegel said she was confident in the police maintaining peace and was focused on proving alternative events, including a teach-in Friday afternoon followed by a candlelight vigil and Shabbat service at the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

“Creating a situation that is volatile and that could potentially lead to violence is feeding into their agenda,” Siegel told the Forward. “People need to keep in mind how this all played out last year in Charlottesville; it resulted in loss of life.”

A coalition of anti-fascist groups — including members of Black Lives Matter D.C., Maryland Antifa and Smash Racism D.C. — were planning to hold a permitted “Still Here, Still Strong” counter-rally on Aug. 12 from noon to 3 p.m. at Freedom Plaza. That’s several blocks away from the Unite the Right 2 rally, but some say they will try to march on Lafayette Square in the hope of confronting the white supremacists despite the police’s determination to keep them apart.

“You should not come on the march if you do not want to be put in a potentially risky/confrontational situation, as we will be in the same space as the white supremacist rally,” the coalition’s Facebook page said.

Ezickson said there was “turmoil amongst the Unite the Right factions” following last year’s rally and that “more participants from Charlottesville declared their intention not to come to Washington than those who have.”

Other Jewish leaders said regardless of what happens on Aug. 12 the fact that white supremacists feel emboldened to march and run for office shows the danger of President Trump’s rhetoric.

“This weekend’s event is not happening in a vacuum,” Jewish Democratic Council of America]( director Halie Soifer told the Forward. “This is just one of many indications of the divisive politics this administration is fueling in this country.”

Soifer added she would never discourage people in “expressing their first amendment rights” in confronting white supremacy, but hoped their wasn’t any violence.

“As a mother and as a Jew, I’m concerned about safety and just horrified this is even happening in 2018.”

Contact Ben Fractenberg at [email protected] or on Twitter, @fractenberg


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