Metro was willing to work with the organizer of a white supremacist rally in Washington this summer to provide special accommodations for his group, according to emails obtained from the transit agency through a public records request.
Jason Kessler, the key organizer of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right 2” rally, asked for a contact at Metro to coordinate special accommodations for his group, and the transit agency complied, the emails show.
“Do you have a contact for me to coordinate with the Metro Transit to McPherson Square for the rally or do I just contact through the general line?” Kessler wrote to D.C. police Officer Scott Earhardt on June 11, according to the emails obtained by The Washington Post.
Earhardt directed Kessler to Tessee B. May, a supervisor for transit field operations who handles special events for Metro. May responded two days later with contact information for Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr., though it is unknown whether they connected.
A week went by.
On June 19, Kessler emailed May, asking if she was available to discuss potential accommodations for his group. “I have demonstrators for a rally on August 12th, 2018 who will be using public transit to arrive at a demonstration site at McPherson Square Metro Station. I would like to coordinate with your department for the safety of my demonstrators and the general public. We are anticipating a potential for violence from left-wing Antifa groups and are concerned about the public transit process being vulnerable points for an ambush,” the email said.
The following morning, May wrote back.
“Absolutely . . . I’m in the office today . . . Please feel free to call me at your convenience.”
The emails suggest Metro understated its role in facilitating special accommodations for those who attended the Aug. 12 march at Lafayette Square.
The event, billed “Unite the Right 2,” commemorated the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that left one counterprotester dead and many others injured.
The trial of James A. Fields Jr., 21, the self-professed neo-Nazi who allegedly rammed his car into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer, started this week.
In early August, reports that Metro planned to provide a special train for Kessler’s group drew outrage from elected officials, activists and the labor union representing Metro’s workforce, the vast majority of whom are people of color. Metro workers threatened not to work that day if the agency agreed to provide special service; others feared violence if rallygoers mixed with other riders.
At the time, Metro and D.C. police would neither confirm nor deny the plan, but Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans acknowledged running a separate train was among options being weighed by officials. Following the public outrage, the idea was abandoned.
Kessler and his group ultimately received a police escort, with officers riding with them from the Vienna station to Foggy Bottom.
The email exchanges, however, show the extent to which Metro was willing to entertain a discussion about providing special service for the rally, where the number of counterprotesters end up dwarfing “Unite the Right” attendees.
“This is an email about setting up a telephone call. That’s it,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said Thursday.
Stessel declined to say whether a call between Kessler and May took place or whether Kessler connected with Pavlik.
“It’s entirely likely that May had no idea who Jason Kessler was at that point,” Stessel said. He added late Thursday night that May had no specific responsibility for rail operations.
Kessler said in an interview in August that he couldn’t recall whetherhe had spoken directly with Metro officials about special train service, though discussions were happening with law enforcement generally surrounding how to protect the rallygoers and counterprotesters.
In a later email, it appeared that Robert T. Glover, captain of the D.C. Police Special Operations Division, had invited Kessler, U.S. Park Police and Metro Transit Police to MPD headquarters for a discussion about security surrounding the event.
On Thursday, in response to an email asking whether that meeting took place, D.C. police said they work with “all willing event organizers” to ensure the safety of parties involved.
Metro said throughout the process that special accommodations for the rallygoers were a result of a unified security plan and that it did not specifically play a role in devising the plans.
The event “was a joint law enforcement operation with a unified command — with MPD as the lead agency,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said Aug. 13. “Any law enforcement decisions were coordinated through that unified command.”
Later, a visibly frustrated D.C. police official said his department played no role in how Kessler’s group used Metro.
“Metro is not in our jurisdiction.”
In the August interview, Kessler repeated the line he had used with Metro regarding the threat of outside violence.
“When you do these protests, you have Antifa, who are specifically coming to engage with you in violence to obstruct free speech,” Kessler said. “That’s why I think law enforcement was thinking about keeping us in a special car. It’s not about a special privilege or anything.”
Metro released the emails following an expedited public records request submitted Aug. 6 seeking correspondence between Kessler, other rally organizers and Metro officials. Metro responded Aug. 17, denying the request, arguing the records’ release “would jeopardize the security of [Metro] operations and the safety of [Metro] customers and employees because it would reveal [Metro’s] operational considerations and security plans that are undertaken for such events. Such records would disclose [Metro’s] deliberative process and reveal law enforcement techniques and procedures, increasing the likelihood of circumvention of the law.”
The Post partially appealed the denial the same month, arguing emails between Metro and rally organizers would not necessarily reveal the agency’s plans — which were moot, in any case — because the rally had already taken place.
“The public has a right to see what, if any, accommodations were pledged to organizers of the Unite the Right group,” the Post’s appeal said. “It also has a right to see the full extent of the accommodations the group was requesting from the agency.”
On Nov. 8, an appeal panel reversed Metro’s original decision and pledged to review the records for release “in an effort to promote transparency.” The emails were released Thursday.