Police at Lafayette Square during Unite the Right 2 by Kelly Bell Photography licensed under Creative Commons.

Metro brought white supremacists downtown to the Unite the Right 2 rally in what was functionally a private railcar on Sunday, August 13, despite earlier statements saying it wouldn't provide special trains or cars to rallygoers.

Last week, the Post reported that Metro was considering providing rallygoers a private train, sparking an immediate backlash from the DC Metro Workers' Union — which is 80% people of color — and many others. The transit agency backed down and said it wouldn't provide the rallygoers or protesters with a private train.

While what Metro ended up providing wasn't technically a private train or car, it wasn't totally public either — and it definitely was special treatment.

Around 2 pm, rally organizer Jason Kessler and other participants were herded with a heavy police guard into the last train car that only included police and reporters. Police blocked other riders from entering the Vienna station for a few minutes as the rallygoers entered, though journalists were allowed on.

Martine Powers at the Post and Max Smith of WTOP reported on how it went down:

The Orange Line train did make all of its usual stops along the way. Other riders got on, and police didn't block them from entering certain cars. The trains were marked “special” because they terminated at Foggy Bottom due to track work and the rally.

Many people were furious about how the transit agency handled the situation, and upset that the rallygoers got such heavy police protection. Metrorail Info responded on Twitter:

DC Councilmembers Charles Allen and Robert White also condemned Metro's actions and called for further investigation, and Metro union ATU Local 689 called for Weidefeld's resignation over the incident:

In further response to criticisms, Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said in a statement, “The Kessler group traveled from Vienna to Foggy on a regularly scheduled train, together with other passengers, media and law enforcement. 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.”

Here's what our contributors have to say:

Editorial Board member Dan Malouff says,

Metro ought not be in the business of volunteering consequence-free hideouts for people with horrendous ideologies to escape the public shaming that must — must — accompany them in public. Nazis must not have safe spaces in our civilization. They must know that they do not have safe spaces. Because the violence Nazis would perpetuate on the world if given the chance is so horrendous, they must be opposed at every step.

WMATA had to let them ride, but did not have to carve out a comfortable, enabling space for them to be free from public shaming. I'm confident this policy was well-meaning and intended to preserve the safety of all Metro riders, and the heavy police presence was both commendable and prudent. But providing a functionally private ride sent a bad message, to both Nazis and to normal morally upstanding people.

The issue was more the poor communication and the dishonesty than Metro putting rallygoers into a separate car, Kelli Raboy says:

After feeling really, really angry about this yesterday, I'm starting to feel that Metro more or less made the right call from a security perspective. But the way they did it, PR-wise, was atrocious.

  • Be transparent from the start. i.e., no, we aren't giving them a private car, but yes, we are going to bring in additional, targeted staff, officers, and announcements to ensure the safety of all passengers. Continuing to deny what they were doing, even while it was going on, was a very, very bad look.
  • Don't close a station entrance. Don't run an unscheduled train. Don't mark it special. Make the whole run and stop at every stop, like you would at any other time. The officers and announcements were really enough. Anything above and beyond was absolutely unwarranted special treatment.

Mark Rodeffer adds,

My issue with Wiedefeld is that he closes multiple Metro stations for extended periods because it’s convenient for Metro. The inconvenience to passengers does not seem to matter. It’s as though he thinks Metro should serve the interests of Metro’s management, not the riding public.

When he first shut down the entire system in March 2016 for inspections, and the news media breathlessly covered this allegedly bold action, the lesson for Wiedefeld seemed to be that safety theatrics are strong leadership. He’s continued it ever since, nevermind that these infrastructure upgrades can be done over longer periods with less disruption.

Setting up special white supremacist-only cars on Metro trains in the name of safety is fitting with this practice. But the practice is wrong, accommodating white supremacists is wrong, and lying to the public is wrong. Metro needs new leadership.

Gray Kimbrough questions Metro's priorities, and think this incident will make others do the same:

I believe we all agree that law enforcement can play a role in keeping protesters and counter-protesters separate. The white supremacists had a permit for their rally, and law enforcement was able to prevent violence there. The question to me is whether that extends to their choice of public transportation which, by its nature, is intended to serve all.

Does WMATA have a process like the permit process in place to determine whether security can be adequately provided for a scheduled event? Must the stance always be that WMATA should allow an event to go forward and provide all necessary security to keep everyone safe? If the VA governor announced that he would be taking Metro into DC to speak at a pro-gun control rally, surely WMATA would push back given security concerns. Would WMATA be expected to guarantee his safety regardless?

What riders (and the union, for that matter) see is that police routinely harass and arrest people, especially teens of color, for eating in stations or jumping faregates. But when it comes to white supremacists, they provide private metro entrances and private train cars, cordoning off a public space especially for their use. Is this consistent with WMATA's mission as a provider of public transportation?

Julie Strupp is Greater Greater Washington's Managing Editor. She's written for DCist, Washingtonian, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and others. You can usually find her sparring with her judo club, pedaling around the city, or hanging out on her Columbia Heights stoop.