Hundreds of anti-racists protesters and activists continued to stream into downtown Washington today to counter a white supremacist rally scheduled to begin this morning NZT.

As many as 400 people are expected to make their way to Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to take part in the Unite the Right 2 event planned by the organiser of last year's deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The gathering, billed as a "white civil rights" rally, is taking place on the anniversary of the Charlottesville violence, which killed an anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, and took the lives of two Virginia State troopers whose helicopter crashed as they returned from monitoring the day's events.

In Washington, thousands protesting the white supremacist rally also are expected at numerous locations, and many plan to converge on Lafayette Park, before the organiser of the rally, Jason Kessler, and his followers arrive.

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Both Kessler and opposition groups have permits from the National Park Service to demonstrate at the park, a leafy 2.8ha enclave just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the President's residence.

Close to a thousand protesters had arrived at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks away from Lafayette Park for an afternoon rally of speeches and music.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler was the first speaker. "This place, this city, this country is a country of inclusivity and not white supremacy," he told the crowd. "We are people that stand up for racial justice and racial inclusivity. We will not be silenced."

At Lafayette Park the atmosphere was still relatively relaxed.

Protesters milled about, talking and photographing each other's signs. Childish Gambino's This Is America pumped through speakers set up on the stage on the northeast side of the park.

For some of the protesters, the focus was less on the white supremacist rally than on US President Donald Trump.

Police posted signs around Freedom Plaza and other First Amendment activity areas in Washington, DC.
Police posted signs around Freedom Plaza and other First Amendment activity areas in Washington, DC.

Holding a "Dump Trump" sign, Mike Holey, 67, of Baltimore, said he's been particularly frustrated by what he called the President's hesitation to denounce white supremacy and neo-Nazism. He pointed to Trump's statement that there was "blame on both sides" after violence broke out at the Unite the Right rally last year.

Benjamin Garrett, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Maryland, raised a sign saying "Trump is a traitor" in block capital letters.

"He gives these people permission," Garrett said. "Trump is a blatant racist."

Trump, who was heavily criticised last year for not unequivocally condemning the white nationalists who had organised the rally and a torch light march through the University of Virginia campus the night before, addressed the Charlottesville anniversary yesterday, tweeting, "The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"

At the Martin Luther King Memorial, about 20 protesters marched to the Lincoln Memorial while singing We Shall Overcome.

Counter-protest signs lie on the ground at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC.
Counter-protest signs lie on the ground at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC.

The group's leader, Hawk Newsome, said that Kessler had invited him and his group, Black Lives Matter of Greater NY, to attend Unite the Right 2.

"He thought that I was a friend, but I am not his Negro," Newsome said. "I am not some token Black you can use to validate yourself."

BLM-GNY - which has been disavowed by the broader Black Lives Matter network - went viral when Newsome and a few others went onstage at a Trump rally last September while staging a counterprotest.

Instead of joining Kessler, he and a handful of other activists marched over the past 10 days from the Bronx to DC to protest against a range of issues, from food insecurity to police brutality.

"I represent a contingent of marginalised people and they (white nationalists) stand in direct opposition to everything we fight for," Newsome said.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said that the goal "will be to keep the two groups separate ... When they are in the same area at the same time, it leads to violent confrontations. Our goal is to prevent that from happening."

Police closed streets to vehicle traffic in a large swath of blocks near the White House, and they were expected to remain closed until this afternoon NZT. Questions remain, however, about how law enforcement will ensure that Kessler and his supporters will make their way to the park.