Neo-Nazis Clash With Protesters
Sunday, April 20, 2008
A march by a busload of neo-Nazi activists on Constitution Avenue yesterday wreaked havoc on a balmy afternoon in the capital, bringing traffic to a halt, filling the streets with hundreds of police and provoking an ugly confrontation on the sidelines that resulted in at least three arrests.
About 30 marchers from the Michigan-based National Socialist Movement, waving red swastika flags and shouting "Sieg Heil," emerged about 2:30 p.m. from a bus one block from the White House and strode toward the Capitol, flanked by thick cordons of police who walked the route in riot gear and hundreds of officers on horseback, bicycles and motorcycles.
The marchers said their purpose was to denounce illegal immigration and to offer white Americans an alternative to the two-party political system. Many wore black storm trooper uniforms, boots and armbands.
The march itself was peaceful, and U.S. Park Police said the organizers had a permit. But the atmosphere was tense, and before the event started, a clash broke out between march supporters and local demonstrators who came to condemn the message.
The local protesters, many of whom wore kerchiefs covering their faces, began waiting in the morning for the neo-Nazi marchers, banging drums and shouting slogans. At midday, about 50 demonstrators found several march supporters next to the Washington Monument, and an angry confrontation erupted.
Police surged around the shouting crowd and tackled a number of people, including a Washington Post photographer. Three protesters were handcuffed and led away.
"People marching in brown shirts and swastikas is a tool of intimidation and terrorism. We came out here to oppose them so they won't feel they can do it safely," said Dan Peterson, 23, a D.C. resident who was arrested.
Sgt. Robert Lachance, a Park Police spokesman, said several officers were assaulted by the march protesters, including by being sprayed with Mace. He declined to say how many officers were assigned to the march or how much the protection cost, but he said the agency was working with D.C. and U.S. Capitol police.
"We did plan for adequate security and safety measures to ensure everyone was safe, park resources were not damaged and the groups were allowed to exercise their First Amendment speech rights," Lachance said.
Traffic was barred from Constitution Avenue for much of the day. Busloads of police in riot gear held drills on the Mall, and helicopters circled overhead. Even police horses were equipped with plexiglass head shields.
Tourists lining the avenue gaped in astonishment. Many commented in disapproval, saying they could not understand why the march was allowed and why so much effort was made to protect the group.
"I support the right to free speech, but when it disrupts the city this much and costs this much, there have to be limits," said John Thiry, 38, from Lancaster, Pa.