By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Around 100 protestors from faith groups and other community organizations protested Sunday in Old Town against the self-proclaimed “alt-right” movement’s new headquarters in the city.
The group gathered at the intersection of King and Patrick streets — where the new headquarters is located — and stayed for just over two hours holding signs, chanting and singing. It is the largest such demonstration since the headquarters opened.
David Hoover, a parishioner at the historic Christ Church on North Washington Street, said the church’s Out and About group settled on helping launch a protest last week after a conversation with its rector. The group hosts monthly events and other social activities for parishioners, guests and visitors to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Showing Up for Racial Justice’s Northern Virginia chapter, a group that organizes white people to campaign for racial equality through community mobilization and education, also brought representatives.
And Grassroots Alexandria, a non-partisan group formed to get people involved in campaigning and advocacy on local issues, also showed its support in addition to other nearby faith groups.
A website called AltRight. com rented office space at King and North Patrick streets and launched earlier this month. The website lists three members of its leadership team: Daniel Friberg, Jason Jorjani and Richard Spencer.
A post on AltRight.com said it looks to bring “together the best writers and analysts” from that sphere. The alt-right’s core concept is that white people and their influence are being undermined by mass immigration and multiculturalism.
Nonprofit civil rights advocacy group the Southern Poverty Law Center describes the alt-right as “white supremacy rebranded for the digital age.” Ryan Lenz, editor of the SPLC’s Hatewatch blog, said they can express their views under the First Amendment and must be respected as such.
“That’s the reality,” Lenz said. “These are protected under the First Amendment, so long as there are not explicit calls for violence. It’s one of the unfortunate realities of the hate movement of the United States: that it
exists out there. It is in our neighborhoods, it is in our back yards — now more than ever — especially as a result of a pretty progressive trend to move these ideas from the margins to the mainstream of American culture.”
In recent days, protesting the group has received support from some elected officials. Delegate Mark Levine (D- 45) said at a town hall meeting Saturday that he would be happy to sign a letter to the building’s owner explaining the situation and some of the community’s opposition.
“He [Spencer] does have a legal right to be there, but we have a legal right to let him know how unwelcome he is,” Levine said at the event, hosted jointly with state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) at Mount Vernon Community School in Del Ray.
The protest Sunday was a peaceful one, with traffic able to flow freely and pedestrians not affiliated with the march able to navigate the sidewalks. A number of cars showed their support by honking their horns as they drove past, and several King Street Trolleys rang their bells.
An officer from the Alexandria Police Department was posted nearby to monitor the situation, but was not called into action at any point. Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said the protestors had reached out to the department beforehand, primarily to seek advice on the legalities of their event and things to be aware of.
For some protestors, it was important to stand against what they saw as the return of extreme racist views to the mainstream.
“We’ve come too far to be doing this again in the United States,” said local resident Ellen Bowman. “I can’t believe how far the United States has gone down this road, but if we have to protest every day to stop it, we’ll protest every day to stop it.”
Others said it was troubling to see the movement not only in the mainstream, but also in their neighborhood. Several cited city council’s statement of inclusiveness, issued in November to emphasize the city’s diversity as a strength.
“Then to have the juxtaposition of someone so full of hate, him leading that group of hate-filled people, does not sit well with me,” said Bridget Evans, a parishioner at Christ Church. “With our church coming over here, I was incredibly enthusiastic to join.”
“I’m aghast that what we thought was a fringe movement of white supremacy is right under our noses. It’s no longer what you hear about in the far West,” said resident Karen Schwarz, referring to Spencer’s previous residence in Montana. “It’s no longer these little groups. It’s right here under our noses and in our community. For me, that’s scary.”
Felicity Boyer of the local SURJ chapter said a number of initiatives are coming down the pike to fight against what she described as a “climate of hatred.” Boyer said that will include a future joint statement being worked on by faith and ethics groups on inclusivity and encouraging people to be their “best selves.”
And as for future work, Jonathan Krall of Grassroots Alexandria said the onus is on opponents in the community to keep making themselves heard on various issues.
“It’s not just a matter of pushing back, it’s a matter of pushing forward,” he said.