The “Mother of All Rallies” didn’t quite live up to its aspirational — and hyperbolic — name, drawing a crowd of about a few hundred on Saturday near the Washington Monument, though organizers had been hoping for thousands.
But if the rally didn’t have the numbers, it certainly had passion and staunch support for President Donald Trump. Attendees were bedecked in American flag clothing, pro-Trump paraphernalia, “FNN” — a nod to CNN and standing for “Fake News Network” — shirts and, in the case of a handful, the pseudo-military gear of private militias there to “help law enforcement,” in the words of one.
There was even a shofar-blowing man with Trump’s face on his shirt. It turned out he was not Jewish, but “a Christian studying Judaism” named Johnny Rice who is running on the Republican ticket against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“I came to show that truly a mixture of American citizens are patriots and supporting Trump,” said Bethesda resident Gail Weiss, who identifies as a secular Jew and was waving both American and Israeli flags. “We’re not anti-Semitic or Nazis or KKK. We are Americans.”
In the wake of the white supremacist rally-turned-riot in Charlottesville, Va., last month that killed one counter protester and injured several others, the Metropolitan Police Department and Washington officials had prepared for the worst amid the numerous events taking place Saturday. In addition to the rally, there was a counter rally called “White Supremacists Out of Washington!” at Farragut Square, a Latino festival on Pennsylvania Avenue and, a mile west of the pro-Trump supporters, the Juggalo March, with fans of “horrorcore” music artists Insane Clown Posse protesting the FBI designation of the group as a gang.
Streets were barricaded by trucks, and a large number of police officers and National Guard members were out. But the pro-Trump rally was a peaceful, nonviolent affair, despite the occasional confrontation between attendee and counter protester. But all involved stayed on the nonviolent side of the line and police stepped in if anyone appeared poised to cross it.
“I wanted to show the left-wing, crybaby snowflakes we are the silent majority,” said Ariel Kohane, a modern Orthodox Jew who came from the Upper West Side of Manhattan for the rally, “And show the Jewish community that more and more Jews are jumping on the Trump bandwagon.”
He was wearing a pro-Trump shirt and kippah while holding two “Jews for Trump” signs, in English and Hebrew.
Both Weiss and Kohane said they believed Trump was the best choice in supporting Israel and were frustrated by what they consider the unfair association of Trump supporters with white supremacists.
For the couple hundred counter protesters at Farragut Square, the issue is what they say is white supremacy in the ranks of Trump supporters. They turned out to the “White Supremacists Out of Washington” rally with signs reading “Confront White Supremacy” and “Fighting Nazis Is an American Tradition.”
Counter protesters like Ayelet Wachs-Kashman of Albany, N.Y., said that Trump and his administration have not taken a strong stance against white supremacists, pointing to his roundly criticized initial response to Charlottesville that called out violence “on many sides” and his support from white supremacist groups.
“We’re here because Jews are targeted by white supremacy,” said Wachs-Kashman, a member of the Jewish activist group IfNotNow. “And we’re here to show our solidarity. However, we also know Jews are not the most targeted group right now. I hope people see Jews are here. And I hope other Jews see Jews are here.”
Some IfNotNow members participated in the “March to Confront White Supremacy” from Charlottesville to Washington starting Aug. 28. One was Ben Doernberg, a Charlottesville native who now lives in Boston. He was home during the white supremacist rally last month, which took place just steps from the synagogue he grew up in. He and his family were involved in counter protesting. Charlottesville is still deeply shaken, he said.
“I feel like the Jewish community as a whole is not taking a leadership role in fighting this,” he said at Farragut Square. “Everyone has given [Trump] eight months to show what he is capable of — and it’s awful.”
Washington resident Marcel Estevez was there with friends.
“I heard about [this event] on Facebook and in the face of the march that’s happening [of pro-Trump supporters on the Mall], I thought this was an appropriate response to stand against white supremacy and racism,” Estevez said, before the gathering headed to bring their objections to the front of the White House.