Washington police threw a steel ring around the White House on Sunday, when a small group of white supremacists arrived in the capital to meet a year after a deadly protest highlighted the growing audacity of the US extreme right. .
About 20 white nationalists entered from the nearby city of Vienna, Virginia, under a heavy police escort, at Washington's Foggy Bottom subway station, while a large group of at least 300 counter-demonstrators were waiting for them, shouting "What a shame!" and "Get out of my city!"
It was not clear how many more white supremacists, if any, could be arriving.
A huge phalanx of yellow-clad police officers escorted white nationalists as they walked several blocks to the demonstration site, separating them from opponents of angry and mocking protests.
Hundreds of counter-demonstrators converged around Lafayette Square in front of the White House, where the rally was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) and in Freedom Plaza, a few blocks southeast.
Dozens of police and law enforcement officers invaded the area, and the streets of several blocks were closed to traffic.
Hundreds of counter-demonstrators, some dressed in black suits, helmets and facial tissues associated with the so-called Antifa movement, had gathered at the north end of the park at noon, dancing and shouting.
The police stopped next to rows of metal barricades destined to separate the two groups.
Unite The Right protesters were expected to arrive later on the opposite side, some 100 meters away.
In Freedom Plaza, located at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue that leads to the US Capitol. UU., A few hundred protesters of all ages, including children and retirees, gathered in an apparently cheerful atmosphere.
"The United States is for all of us, not only for some of us," said one poster, while another said: "Fight against the Nazis: an American tradition."
Last year, white supremacists carrying torches, ostensibly protesting the elimination of Confederate statues, marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, in two days of chaos that culminated in a man driving a car against a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a woman and injuring 19 people.
The Charlottesville police faced massive criticism for their response and their failure to keep protesters and opponents apart from the protesters.
The police in Washington, which had begun to gather near Lafayette Square at 8:00 a.m., seemed determined to avoid the same pitfalls.
& # 39; As Nazi Germany & # 39;
Kei Pritsker, 22, a volunteer in the Washington area of the Answer Coalition who organized this year's protest, was optimistic that the violence would not be repeated, but said it was necessary to send a strong message to neo-Nazi sympathizers.
"It would be a big mistake if we allowed the fascists to simply enter the nation's capital and enter without opposition," he said.
The white supremacist movement is enjoying a greater sense of empowerment under President Donald Trump, he added.
"When Trump was elected, many of those people who harbored racist feelings, because they had the backing of a president, could come out and say this," said Pritsker.
Immediately after last year's march, Trump received widespread criticism when he initially appeared reluctant to condemn extreme right-wing extremists, many of whom joined behind him since his election.
On Saturday, the president issued a generic condemnation of "all types of racism and acts of violence" through Twitter.
A black man in counter-protest who would only give his name as Jim said the United States feels more racist under Trump.
"He has encouraged the whites now, if they are walking on the sidewalk, his position is that it is better to get out of the way," he told AFP.
"It was subtle, now it's not subtle, it's on your face, it's like Nazi Germany."
The organizers of the rally encouraged their supporters to bring only flags of the United States or the Confederation, not neo-Nazi emblems, and warned them to avoid reacting with anger to the counter-demonstrators.
All firearms were banned at the site of the Washington protest, including those legally transported by licensed gun owners, and the police placed posters urging people not to carry guns.
& # 39; Racial indignity & # 39;
Trump retweeted white nationalist material, said Mexicans crossing the border with the United States are rapists and drug traffickers, and tweeted degrading descriptions of black athletes and politicians.
In a recent outbreak, a former black employee of the White House, Omarosa Manigault Newman, wrote in an upcoming memoir that Trump uttered a racial insult "several times" while making his hit reality show "The Apprentice" before his presidential run, and that there are tapes to prove it. Trump called it a "bad life."