After white supremacist groups and members of the alt-right traveled by train into Washington, DC, for Sunday’s “Unite the Right 2” rally, the local transit authority faces outcry for providing what some observers say was preferential treatment for rallygoers.
The backlash began early Sunday afternoon when people began posting photos from the Vienna Metro station in Virginia, where Unite the Right participants gathered before taking the train into DC. According to WUSA9 reporter Mike Valerio and reports from other news outlets on the scene, one entrance to the station was completely closed off to the public, and only let Unite the Right participants enter with a police escort.
Police with helmets moving into position at the south entrance of the Vienna metro. This seems to be the entrance where they now expect the Unite the Right rally pic.twitter.com/Vk7JOhYZ7C— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) August 12, 2018
Attention to the Metro system itself intensified later in the day when a Twitter post from filmmaker Ford Fischer noted that Jason Kessler, the organizer of Unite the Right, had been placed in a train car that only included other Unite the Right participants, police, and members of the press.
According to reports from the station, there were about two dozen rally attendees on the train, though Kessler had initially anticipated some 400 people attending the event.
Despite complaints by WMATA Union and statement to the contrary, only Jason, his supporters, police, and press are in the train on its way to DC. pic.twitter.com/3BDbm0ciam— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) August 12, 2018
“Special” reads the WMATA train line description Jason Kessler is in right now, on his way to Unite the Right 2. pic.twitter.com/gIA4chsyMy— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) August 12, 2018
In the hours since, others have noted that the train did stop at other stations and did not block riders from boarding certain cars. In a statement emailed to Vox, a representative for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said trains were marked as “special” because they terminated service at DC’s Foggy Bottom Metro Station.
“The Kessler group traveled from Vienna to Foggy on a regularly scheduled train, together with other passengers, media and law enforcement,” Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said in the statement. “They were escorted by police onto the rear of the train and police rode in that rail car and others to protect the safety of everyone onboard the train.” Ly added that any additional measures taken on Sunday came from local and transit police.
WMATA had announced last week that it would not set up special trains or train cars for those attending the Unite the Right events, in response to a local transit union and members of the public who rejected giving the white supremacists what would amount to special treatment.
Earlier proposals to give Unite the Right participants private trains were scrapped after public backlash
In the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville last year, there has been intense attention to how DC officials and agencies were planning to handle Unite the Right participants and counterprotesters.
On August 3, the Washington Post noted that the DC Metro system was considering separate trains for Unite the Right attendees. Metro authorities said these plans were being considered in an effort to limit violence by keeping rallygoers and counterprotesters separated.
Those plans met with swift backlash, particularly from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which argued that the Metro system should not offer private cars to rallygoers. “More than 80% of Local 689’s membership is people of color, the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated,” the group noted in a statement. “The union has declared that it will not play a role in their special accommodation.”
On August 4, Metro announced that it was no longer considering the private trains.
But with the news of how service went Sunday, local activists and transit workers have once again ramped up their criticism of the Metro system, arguing that the police response and train service amounted to preferential treatment for those attending a white supremacy rally.
#wmata has given this hate group power by treating them like they are special.— ATU Local 689 (@ATULocal689) August 12, 2018