What happened last weekend?
Friday, August 11th, Richard Spencer, a far-right white nationalist and a headline speaker for Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, texted a reporter:
“I’d be near campus tonight, if I were you…After 9 p.m.”
That night, right on schedule, white nationalists marched in a torchlight procession across Nameless Field at the University of Virginia. Uniformed in white polo shirts and khaki pants, 250 mostly young white males marched in Hitler youth-esque fashion chanting the phrases; “Blood and soil!” “You will not replace us!,” and “Jews will not replace us!”
Further along their march, at a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the nationalists were met with approximately 30 white and non-white UVA students locked in arms at the base of the monument. The marchers circled the statue. Some made monkey noises at the Black students, while others chanted “White lives matter!” Chaos and violence ensued. Nationalists threw their torches and sprayed chemical irritants towards the students. Both groups began shoving and punching.
Saturday, August 12th, the “Unite the Right” rally began at 8am as rally-goers, counter-protestors and third party self proclaimed vigilantes began to fill Emancipation Park. The tension from the previous night escalated exponentially. Violence arose immediately. There was little police enforcement in sight. At 1:45pm, James Alex Fields Jr., a white nationalist, drove his car into a group of counter-protestors. The attack injured 19 people and murdered Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Charlottesville. Thirty-four people were wounded in the clashes of the rally.
Why did these events take place?
In Charlottesville, the subject of dissidence was a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Civil War Confederate General from Northern Virginia. ThE war was a battle between Northern and Southern states over the economic benefits slavery. The North wanted to end slavery because the South had gained tremendous economic power from the inhumane labor conditions of Black captivity. The South wanted to break away from the Union to create a new state that legally persevered its financial standing and the methods that kept it prosperous. The Northern states won, so the Union prevailed. But slavery as it existed developed into a new equally destructive cancer known as apprenticeships that sent Blacks back into an inhumane unpaid labor market, and a rewriting of laws that allowed Blacks to be arrested in masses and put back into for-profit slavery as punishment. Charlottesville planned to remove this divisive monument, which at best was a mere participation trophy honoring a bigoted general from an oppressive time. White strongly nationalists opposed but .
But before Charlottesville, this year alone, far-right supremacists have held violent rallies in Washington, Kentucky, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco. And before all of these rallies, there was the campaign and election of Donald Trump. For a year and a half, Trump’s rhetoric emboldened covert white nationalist groups, white supremacists, far-right activists, and sympathizers in their belief that white people are superior to all other races. Empowered by Trump’s white face in leadership, these groups arose from predominately online-only spaces to real world presences. They brought their beliefs – that white people should dominate society, that multiculturalism and immigration are threatening the white race, and that a society that acknowledges its painfully discriminatory history threatens their liberty – from covert thought and action to overt discrimination and violence. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified more than 900 domestic active hate groups empowered by white nationalist ideology.
What does leadership think?
On Saturday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and told the demonstrators to go home. Trump made this statement,
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. Above all else we must remember this truth, no matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all American first.”
He was immediately met with criticism from Congress.
“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado, who oversees the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” said Mike Huckabee. Democrats have suggested that Mr. Trump is simply unwilling to alienate the segment of his white electoral base that embraces bigotry.
On Sunday, Governor McAuliffe, reiterated his calls for white supremacists to leave the city. He denounced the people who had come to Charlottesville for the rally saying that they weren’t the patriots they make themselves out to be. He stated, “They get out of bed every day to hate people and divide our country..they need to leave America, because they are not Americans.”
Former KKK leader David Duke said this;
On Monday, Trump came out with a new statement;
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But overall this week, love has trumped hate. Last Monday, citizens of Durham tore down a confederate monument and since then 200+ people have turned themselves in in solidarity with those charged for the statue’s removal. This past Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh quietly took down confederate monuments in the middle of the night. Trump praised Confederate monuments as beautiful and irreplaceable and called their removal foolish, but fellow republicans Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, and Jerry Moran denounced Trump by name. As did Governor John Kasich and Representatives Ed Royce, Leonard Lance, and Will Ford. Moreover, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared to distance themselves from President Trump by publicly condemning racism. Fifteen top executives quit Trump’s business councils and the tech companies Facebook, Paypal, Airbnb, Uber, Discover Financial Services, and Apple Pay are prohibiting hate groups from accessing their resources. They realize that their sites and services are used to organize these events, purchase supplies, book lodging and provide transportation. Descendants of those honored by Confederate monuments have given their support for the nationwide removal and social media fundraisers are raising money to erect monuments celebrating Black liberation. Finally, today, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, a white nationalist, has been fired.
What happens now?
According to The Leadership Conference, here are ten actions that we can take to stop white supremacy and stand up for civil and human rights. Also, Black people, we can say thank you! To our allies standing up to injustice, to the people forcing themselves to confront their biases and their pasts, and to the White people calling out the discrimination and microagressions you experience when only you and other white faces are in the room, you are appreciated.
‘‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’’ – Nelson Mandela