Rallies across US protest against white supremacy

President Donald Trump tweets support for 40,000-strong Boston protest

A man wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of President Donald Trump, right, argues with a counterprotester after being hit by a flying plastic bottle of water near a "Free Speech" rally staged by conservative activists, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston.  An estimated 15,000 counterprotesters marched through the city to historic Boston Common, where many gathered near a bandstand abandoned early by conservatives who had planned to deliver a series of speeches. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, and angry counterprotesters scuffled with armed officers trying to maintain order.  (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

A man wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of President Donald Trump, right, argues with a counterprotester after being hit by a flying plastic bottle of water near a "Free Speech" rally staged by conservative activists, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston. An estimated 15,000 counterprotesters marched through the city to historic Boston Common, where many gathered near a bandstand abandoned early by conservatives who had planned to deliver a series of speeches. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, and angry counterprotesters scuffled with armed officers trying to maintain order. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

 

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, emboldened and unnerved by the eruption of fatal violence in Virginia last weekend, surged onto streets and parks in the United States at the weekend to denounce racism, white supremacy and Nazism.

Demonstrations were boisterous but broadly peaceful, even as tensions and worries coursed through protests from Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and to the bridges that cross the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. Other rallies played out in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, among other cities.

The demonstrations, which drew 40,000 people in Boston alone, according to police estimates, came one week after a 32-year-old woman died amid clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and they unfolded as the country was again confronting questions about race, violence and the standing of Confederate symbols.

The president, Donald Trump, who has faced unyielding, and bipartisan, criticism after saying there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, tweeted on Saturday that he wanted “to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!”

Shift in tone

He also wrote: “Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!” It was an abrupt shift in tone. The president posted earlier on Saturday that it appeared there were “many anti-police agitators in Boston”.

There were scattered scuffles and arrests; in Boston, the largest of the weekend’s protests, police said there had been 33 arrests, mostly involving charges of disorderly conduct. Boston had been facing opposing demonstrations, but a rally to promote “free speech” was brief and not amplified beyond the small bandstand where it was held. The event, whose participants appeared to number only in the dozens, was undercut by police planning and starved by an enormous buffer zone between the handful of protesters and the overwhelming numbers of their opponents.

“This city has a history of fighting back against oppression, whether it’s dumping tea in the harbour or a bunch of dudes standing around with bandannas screaming at neo-Nazis,” said a 21-year-old protester who identified himself as “Frosty.”

Separately, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin pushed back against demands that he resign from Donald Trump’s cabinet, and on Saturday defended the president’s response to last weekend’s deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The former head of homeland security, meanwhile, said that top Trump administration officials such as defence secretary Jim Mattis should “absolutely not” quit, if they were considering it, since they’re needed to “right the ship.”

Civic society criticism

Trump has taken blistering criticism from lawmakers, business leaders and others over statements he made following violence at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12th that left one counter protester dead. He cast similar blame on the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who organised the events and those who protested against it.

Some of Trump’s comments, criticising “alt-left” protesters as “very, very violent,” came on August 15th with Mnuchin standing by the president’s side in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. The raucous event had been expected to focus on the administration’s infrastructure proposals.

Mr Mnuchin was urged to quit his treasury post in a letter from more than 300 fellow graduates of Yale University’s Class of 1985, who said it was his “moral obligation” to step down in protest for Trump’s “support of Nazism and white supremacy.”

But in a statement, Mnuchin, who is Jewish, said he understands “the long history of violence and hatred against the Jews (and other minorities), and circumstances that give rise to these sentiments.”

“I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form, believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” the former banker and film producer said in the statement.

Wall Street was rattled last week by talk that another top Jewish member of the administration, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, was upset by Trump’s remarks and thinking about quitting. Cohn, who also flanked the president at the Trump Tower event, will remain in his position, a White House official said on Thursday.

Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama’s secretary of homeland security, said if officials like Mr Mattis or White House chief of staff John Kelly came to him and said they were thinking of resigning, he’d tell them they “absolutely” must stay.

“It’s country first,” Johnson said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. The US needs people such as Kelly, Mattis and national security adviser HR McMaster “to right the ship,” he said.

New York Times service / Reuters