The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White-supremacist rally cost D.C. at least $2.6 million, preliminary estimate shows

Police officers line up in Lafayette Square in Washington on Sunday as hundreds of counterprotesters gather to demonstrate against the Unite the Right 2 rally. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

The District spent $2.6 million on policing and other costs related to Sunday’s white-supremacist rally and the associated counterprotests, according to a preliminary estimate from the city government.

The city plans to ask the federal government to reimburse those costs. Congress budgeted $13 million this year for a fund to help the District pay for responses to large-scale protests and events, which are common in the nation’s capital but have become more frequent during the Trump administration.

The Unite the Right 2 rally, held on the anniversary of the deadly white-nationalist gathering in Charlottesville last year, attracted fewer than 40 supporters. But law enforcement responded with a massive presence to keep the white supremacists physically separated from thousands of counterprotesters.

Police also had to contend with a group of anti-fascists, known as Antifa, who roamed the downtown area, skirmished with officers at 13th and G Streets NW, and threatened property damage but ultimately backed down.

City officials called their response a success: No one was injured, and only one person arrested on minor charges.

But critics say the city may have inadvertently encouraged more groups with provocative messages to come to the nation’s capital by pouring so many resources into defending the First Amendment rights of Sunday’s rally-goers. Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler praised the level of police protection his group received and has suggested he’d like to stage additional events in the Washington area. Reached by phone Tuesday, Kessler declined to say if he planned another rally in the District.

White-supremacist rally dwarfed by counterprotesters, police

Anu Rangappa, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), stressed that the $2.6 million price tag was an early estimate and not the final cost that will be charged to the federal government. She could not immediately answer whether the city incurred additional expenses related to the event that cannot be reimbursed.

The initial tally comes almost entirely from the Metropolitan Police Department, which reported an estimated $2.5 million in costs related to staffing and overtime for its 3,900-member force. The District’s Department of Public Works, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and Homeland Security and Emergency Management agencies each reported costs in the low five-digit range.

In fiscal 2017, the federal government reimbursed the city $9.1 million for policing costs related to demonstrations and special events.

Local officials praised police for preventing a repeat of the chaos in Charlottesville last year.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham has said the costs were necessary to keep the city safe.

“When these two groups have come together in the past, we have seen violence,” Newsham told reporters Sunday. “You need that number of officers to make sure no one gets hurt.”

But some counterprotesters say they’re troubled by how the city was willing to spend millions to ensure that a white-supremacist rally could proceed.

“It does highlight the extent to which both the Bowser administration, MPD and law enforcement in D.C. will go to protect people and systems that uphold white supremacy,” said April Goggans, an organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C. “You have advocacy groups fighting every day for just hundreds of thousands of dollars for programs that touch thousands of D.C. residents.”

The District’s expenses Sunday don’t reflect the total cost to taxpayers.

Four other agencies also responded to the rally: the Virginia State Police, Fairfax Police, Metro and U.S. Park Police. The Washington Post has asked each of those agencies to provide a breakdown of costs related to the rally and has yet to receive figures.

A spokesman for the Secret Service said the agency will not disclose the costs of protective operations “for operational security purposes.”

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.