Dueling conservative rallies will be held Sunday in Washington after a split over the involvement of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
The “Freedom of Speech Rally” at the Lincoln Memorial originally included controversial conservative personalities and two people arrested this week after interrupting a production of “Julius Caesar” in New York.
But when some potential participants discovered that Spencer, known for his racial rhetoric, was on the bill, they withdrew and decided to hold a “Rally Against Political Violence” near the White House instead. Liberal protesters also plan to rally Sunday on the Mall to counter the conservative demonstrations.
The “Rally Against Political Violence” — headlined by Roger Stone, an adviser to President Trump during his campaign — is intended to condemn the attack on Republican congressmen during their June 14 baseball practice in Virginia and the “depictions of gruesome displays of brutality against sitting U.S. national leaders,” according to the event’s Facebook page. Stone didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Corey A. Stewart, a darling of the alt-right — a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state — who narrowly lost in last week’s Virginia Republican gubernatorial primary, will also speak at the rally, his first major public appearance since his defeat. Stewart campaigned on unwavering loyalty to Trump, defending Virginia’s Confederate monuments and condemning what he called an “unhinged” left and the eventual GOP nominee Ed Gillespie, whom he blasted as a Washington insider and “cuckservative.”
Colton Merwin, a 19-year-old activist from Baltimore who organized the original free-speech event, said some speakers dropped off because “they believed that Spencer would bring a bad name to their cause.”
“I can understand that to an extent, but ultimately it is about free speech,” he wrote in an email. “They have every right to have a platform and I support their decision. . . . They are still exercising their free speech to counterprotest a rally, but I think it’s counterproductive.”
Spencer, who coined the term alt-right to describe the nativist right-wing movement, said those who splintered off to create the competing rally were “alt-lite.”
“A movement needs a good purge,” he said. “If these were really top-notch thinkers, scholars, human beings, I might try to reach out to them. Being that they’re not, I think it’s good to just cut off the fat.” He added, “They are going to look like losers.”
Mike Cernovich, a conservative writer who has been criticized for endorsing conspiracy theories and is a sponsor of the anti-political-violence rally, was critical of Spencer and Sunday’s competing event.
“They are losers who can’t draw a crowd without us,” he said of Spencer in a direct Twitter message to The Washington Post. “They should stop being garbage people who throw Nazi salutes rather than cry when we won’t hang out with them.”
According to National Park Service permits for the two rallies, 400 people are expected to attend each event.
Mike Stark, a member of the left-leaning D.C. United Against Hate, said his group also will be at the Lincoln Memorial. It has applied for a permit and is in contact with the Park Service, although the agency had not issued a permit as of Thursday afternoon.
Stark said other progressive groups have backed the counterdemonstration. A permit application indicates upward of 100 people will attend.
Although the opposing political groups will be in proximity, Stark said he is planning for a peaceful protest. “With the climate that has been produced in the White House, many of these right groups feel like they have the wind in their sails,” he said. “We want to expose them as the isolated and sick people they are.”
Hoping to avoid any confrontation, the far-left D.C. Anti-Fascists Coalition will have a counterdemonstration of its own on Sunday — the “Really Really Free Speech Rally” — at D.C. police headquarters.
“We are the ones who materially have our actual speech impinged upon on a regular basis,” organizer Lacy MacAuley said. “It’s not a body of people who are white dudes.”
The dueling conservative rallies shine a light on divisions in what’s often referred to as the alt-right. Not every conservative associated with the loosely defined movement wants to be tied to it — and not all advocate a white ethnostate.
Lucian Wintrich, who is White House correspondent for the conservative blog Gateway Pundit and has been criticized as a conspiracy theorist, was to appear at the free-speech rally but opted for the anti-political-violence rally when Spencer got involved. Describing himself as a Barry Goldwater-style conservative, he said Spencer’s views were “delusional” and “disgusting.”
“Most of us hate Richard Spencer,” Wintrich said. “If you actually listen to what he says, it’s nonsense that a very insecure freshman at a liberal arts school might say after he reads too many white supremacist forums.” He added, “I don’t think Spencer even believes himself.”
Wintrich and Cernovich offered an alternative to the term alt-right: “New Right.”
“The New Right is focused on issues of grave concern to Americans who are trying to find hope,” Cernovich wrote. “We support free speech, trade agreements that benefit American workers by giving them jobs rather than cheaper iPhones, and bankruptcy reform for students who were conned into assuming an unbearable debt load. We have ideas which neither party supports, and we are eager to debate them.”
Other speakers struggled with the question: Is it okay to withdraw from an event promoting free speech because one doesn’t agree with a speaker?
Connor Groce, a 17-year-old activist from North Carolina who is scheduled to speak at the rally for free speech, calls himself a “tea party activist” and a “constitutional conservative.” But white nationalist?
“Absolutely not — in any way, shape or form,” he said.
However, Groce said he would stay on the bill with Spencer out of principle and found the prospect of a competing rally “disheartening.”
“It’s not my place to say they shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “They have the same right to stand up there and present their position . . . but I think if you’re countering that, you’re sort of countering what we stand for.”