Bigots of many flavors were encouraged by the campaign and election of President Donald J. Trump. In the 10 days following November 8, 2016, almost 900 hate and bias incidents were reported nationwide, with the victims typically being those populations demonized during the campaign.
What was slated for Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12, was a “Unite the Right” rally including a variety of far-right and alt-right extremists, ranging from anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant hate groups to neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and members of the Ku Klux Klan, anti-government militias, and newer groups like the Proud Boys, American Guard and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights.
The flash point enabling [white supremacist organizer] Jason Kessler, with help from alt-right celebrity Richard Spencer, was the upcoming removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park. Statues of Confederate leaders nationwide have been removed in recent years as communities have come to view them as symbols of slavery.
Writer Caroline O. set the scene as the day approached with a prescient article at Medium:
“The genesis of the entire event is this Robert E. Lee statue that the city is trying to move, which is symbolic of a lot of other issues that deal with the tearing down of white people’s history and our demographic replacement,” Kessler said, according to the Washington Post.
Saturday’s rally will be the third official gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville this year. In May, self-identified white nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer led a group of (tiki) torch-bearing protesters in a demonstration against the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee statue at Emancipation Park. In July, about 50 members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan gathered at a nearby park to express their anger over what they called “the ongoing cultural genocide… of white Americans.”
On Friday night, hundreds of neo-Nazis amassed outside a church where clergy and non-violence advocates were praying for peace and getting organized for they assumed was a going to be a long day on Saturday. Attendees in the sanctuary were trapped and stayed inside.
Jeff Stein with Vox.com described what happened:
Yesterday, there was a big sermon at St. Paul’s church in preparation. I got there 20 minutes early and it was already standing room only, and there were a number of speakers from different faith groups, and the keynote speakers were Rev. Traci Blackmon and Cornel West. Her sermon focused on the David versus Goliath story, and she stressed that David takes the head off of Goliath — making the point we can’t settle for piecemeal success; we have to realize white supremacy isn’t isolated but is embedded in a larger ideology of imperialism and oppression.
The overwhelming thrust of everything was that it was time for solidarity among the left.
Around 9:15pm, the church gathering started to break up. But then hundreds of white supremacists marched right outside the church. Everybody in the church was asked to remain inside. The Nazis came and made people essentially hostages in the church until they eventually marched away.
What they then did was go down UVA’s main lawn toward the Thomas Jefferson statute; student protesters headed them off, and they surrounded Thomas Jefferson’s statute to prevent the neo-Nazis from reaching it. The students wanted to say, “This is our space.” There are very moving pictures of these students being surrounded by neo-Nazis, and deeply unsettling video of them being physically attacked.
The Unite the Right participants chanted slogans — “White Lives Matter,” “You will not replace us,”(also reported as “Jews will not replace us”) “blood and soil” — alluding to the white-nationalist idea that ethnic and religious diversity is “white genocide.”
Saturday in Charlottesville started with a sunrise sermon at the 150-year-old historically black First Baptist Church.
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) August 12, 2017
Back to Stein at Vox:
After the sermon, faith leaders, including Dr. West, led a march to Emancipation Park about one mile away from the church. Emancipation Park — which was named Robert E. Lee Park until about a month and a half ago — has a gigantic 20-30 foot statue of Robert E. Lee on a horse. That’s what kicked this whole thing off — the city council voting to remove that statute.
The clergy marched down there and set up a human link to try to keep racists out. But that’s where the white supremacists planned on going. They had planned to go to Emancipation Park, and when they arrived they found the human link. The clergy sang “let it shine” over the neo-Nazi shouts of “blood and soil.”
Eventually, hundreds and hundreds of white supremacists came walking or running or jumping down the streets, in successive waves. Sometimes they were dressed like Italian fascists; sometimes dressed like Donald Trump at a golf course, with white polo shirts and khaki pants and red “Make America Great Again” hats; some Nazis were saying, “Sieg Heil!;” and some were saying, “Heil Trump!” It was Nazis of all stripes — proud boys Nazis, and Nazis in camouflage fatigues, and then your normal KKK nazis. You’d see one group of Nazis, then another group of Nazis, and then another and another, and another.
Many Unite the Right protesters wore white nationalist and Nazi paraphernalia, a militia arrived armed with heavy weaponry and some individuals wore Ku Klux Klan imagery.
Fox’s @dougmckelway interviewing a white nationalist in Cville. “The fucking Jew lovers are gassing us, man.” McKelway: “Pardon his French.”
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 12, 2017
Former KKK leader David Duke attended.
From The Hill:
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke appeared at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. prior to Saturday’s violent clashes, saying that the event represented fulfilling the promises of President Trump.
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,” Duke said.
The planned rally never really started, as police declared an unlawful assembly almost immediately. In the wake of street fighting as some neo-Nazis leaving the rally were met by black-clad Antifa militants, a state of emergency was declared.
— Mark Strauss (@markhstrauss) August 12, 2017
Clashes continued on side streets and throughout downtown for several hours. Then a Dodge Challenger raced down Fourth Street, slamming into counterprotesters. A 32-year-old woman died, and 19 others were taken to area hospitals. Five were in critical condition as of midnight.
From the Washington Post:
Video recorded at the scene of the car crash shows a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying — and then reversing at high speed, hitting yet more people. Witnesses said the street was filled with people opposed to the white nationalists who had come to town bearing Confederate flags and anti-Semitic epithets…
The driver of the Challenger, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit-and-run attended failure to stop with injury, police said. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer said. Police made three other arrests in connection with violence earlier in the day, on charges of assault and battery, disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon.
Yes, he really said this:
Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
Looking beyond the facts and figures and hurting humans of Charlottesville, August 12 will be remembered as a day of infamy. Adding to the tragic news was news of two Virginia State Police officers killed in the crash of a helicopter that had been monitoring the day’s events.
“Many sides” didn’t do this. pic.twitter.com/4zJFyxzb1J
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) August 12, 2017
Jamelle Bouie at Slate speculated it was the day the far right “revealed the extent to which they hold political influence, such that the president of the United States refused to condemn them outright. The men who gathered under Unite the Right made clear that they saw Trump as an ally to their cause.”
Yes, the proximate reason for Unite the Right was to defend the city’s Confederate memorials, but the actual reason was for the marchers to show their strength as a movement.
You can argue easily that they failed. Hundreds came to march in support of white supremacy, but they were outnumbered by thousands of residents who turned out to oppose the rally. The rally was scheduled to last for five hours, but it was over after 15 minutes; police cleared the park when it was clear the demonstrators were angling for a fight. By the afternoon, the streets of downtown Charlottesville were controlled by cops and counter-protesters, and the white supremacists had either retreated to a different park or left entirely.
But this argument doesn’t quite stick. Yes, the Nazis and white supremacists retreated from their initial stand, but that didn’t stop a man who appeared to be one of their number from using a car to kill one counter-protester and injure 19 others. Yes, they were outnumbered on the ground, but they received tacit support from a White House that refused to condemn them by name. In their initial statements, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned “hatred” and “violence” without naming the actual perpetrators, an abrupt shift away from their typical penchant for bluntness and clarity. And when speaking to the press, Trump accused “many sides” of fomenting violence, equivocating at a moment when white supremacists had just terrorized an American city. He even seemed to back their defense of Confederate memorials, asking all Americans to “cherish history.”
Even a very general condemnation of violence by the President was too much for some on the right:
I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists. https://t.co/Rkfs7O2Ykr
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 12, 2017
Vigils have been organized nationwide by Indivisible groups, along with the Women’s March, Democracy for America, Working Families Party, Resist Here, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Mi Familia Vota, OurRevolution, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, People’s Action, Courage Campaign, Greenpeace, #AllOfUs, #Resist, 350.org, OFA, United We Dream, Win Without War, Voto Latino, MoveOn.org, Sierra Club, Pantsuit Nation, Town Hall Project, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, iAmerica, National Immigration Law Center, #MarchForTruth, Color of Change, UltraViolet, IfNotNow, People Power, Faith in Public Life, CREDO, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Brand New Congress, South Asian Americans Leading Together, NARAL Pro-Choice America, RootsAction, SEIU, and others.
Looking beyond the vigils, the time has come to demand accountability from every elected official, along with faith and community leaders. No longer can silence be tolerated. This cuts way deeper than just a bunch of white punks jacked on testosterone.
.@DarrellIssa We’re still waiting to hear from you about Charlottesville. All I hear is crickets. I’m ashamed to have you as my Rep.
— Ellen Montanari (@montanari_ellen) August 13, 2017
Consider this: Of 85 deadly US terror attacks since 9/11, far-right-wing extremists were responsible for 62, Islamic extremists 23.
It’s not like people haven’t been sounding the alarm for many months now, as this piece from Daily Kos published last December shows:
As we stand on the precipice of the inauguration of a man who is actively filling his inner circle with white supremacists, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes, America is now faced with asking itself how it got itself into this mess—and not just how we got into it but whether it should be called “alt-right,” Nazism, or white nationalism when we discuss it, to be more precise. Despite the fact that hate groups have grown by 813 percent since the election of President Obama in 2008, and the reality that we are now more than seven times as likely to be killed by white right-wing extremists than ISIS, we remain paralytically apprehensive about discussing the propaganda that has wrought our current predicament.
Think it’s just Donald J Trump at the heart of this sickness? Think again. Here’s a tidbit from Fox News:
So far, lawmakers in at least 18 states have proposed legislation that would make it harder to protest, create harsher penalties for protesters who are arrested, and, in two states, remove liability from drivers who accidentally injure protesters on roadways.
I saw a lot of stupidity on social media today and not all of it came from right wing goons… The mainstream media people who insisted that there was an equivalency between the neo-Nazis and the counter-protesters… The headline writers who couldn’t be bothered to call the car driving into the crowd terrorism… And the keyboard warriors of the Left, who boasted about nothing like that ever happening their neighborhood.
We can shape history’s judgment of what happened on August 12, 2017. Let this be the day we said “Never Again” and backed our words with action, solidarity, and love.