Neo-Nazis ditch D.C. rally counterdemonstrators exult

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WASHINGTON — Neo-Nazis failed to show up for their much-ballyhooed rally here Saturday. But for counterdemonstrators who gathered here, it marked an opportunity to make a stand against anti-Semitism and racism.

Hundreds of people gathered at Lafayette Park near the White House and at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in protest of the planned march and rally by the white supremacist American Nationalist Party, which calls itself "the fastest-growing right-wing party in existence."

But minutes after Peter Yarrow, a folk singer and a Jew, led the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in a stirring, nostalgia-tinged rendition of "We Shall Overcome," it became clear all they would have to overcome was four members of the white supremacist group who showed up and promptly left.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's delegate to Congress, announced the news to the cheering throng of Jewish and civil rights activists, saying, "The difference between them and us is we showed up and they couldn't."

Across town, a separate, ad hoc coalition of community groups marched six blocks to Lafayette Park and held an anti-Nazi rally that quickly turned into a victory celebration after the neo-Nazi march was canceled.

"This is fabulous," said Bob Kunst, president of a Jewish group called Shalom International of Miami, which was prepared to meet the neo-Nazis head-on. "It was a multiple victory because there was no violence and we didn't avoid our responsibility by turning our back."

The counterdemonstrators who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for what the American Jewish Committee, the NAACP and other organizing groups called a "respect rally" had no plans to try to confront the neo-Nazis.

"We may not dignify their hatred by confronting them physically, but let them not make a mistake. With every fiber of our being we confront everything they stand for by our presence here and our voices," Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a veteran of the civil rights protests of the 1960s, told the crowd.

David Bernstein, regional director of the AJCommittee, was there too.

"We were really pleased that we had the opportunity to bring a diverse community together to make a strong statement of support for pluralism and respect and democracy and tolerance," he said in an interview.

"Our event was in no way dependent on the neo-Nazis," he added. "We just wanted to make sure that whatever happened, a strong counter-message was heard in the public domain."

The four neo-Nazis who showed up told police they called off the rally because they did not want their people hurt. It remained unclear whether Davis Wolfgang Hawke, the 20-year-old founder of the American Nationalist Party who attends college in South Carolina, was among the four.

The party, previously known as the Knights of Freedom, has used its Web site to present itself as a rapidly growing organization even though it is operated out of Hawke's dorm room, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Hawke's original name was Andrew Greenbaum, but he claims to have no Jewish heritage and states on his Web site that "my stepfather, Hyman Greenbaum (a one-quarter Jew) is incorrectly listed on my birth certificate."

He states that the "purpose of my life, and the reason for the existence of this party, is to take back what the liberals and the Jewish ruling elite have swindled from us — White America and its proud history."

After Washington police and the U.S. Park Service deployed nearly 2,000 police officers in riot gear in the downtown area to protect the marchers, officials said they would look into suing the neo-Nazi group for the estimated $1 million it cost taxpayers.