By Miriam Raftery
August 13, 2017 (Charlottesville, VA)—Unite the Right, the largest white supremacist gathering in decades, was declared an unlawful assembly by the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people are dead and at least 35 injured. Governor Terry McAuliff declared a state of emergency and politicians across the country have spoken out to denounce the hate groups participating and a Nazi sympathizer who rammed his vehicle into a crowd has been charged with murder.
Former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) mperial Wizard David Duke had earlier credited Donald Trump with inspiring the rally.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Duke elaborated, “This represents a turning point…We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. 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’re going to do.”
The gathering had been projected to draw thousands of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other alt right hate group members. In a rally the night before the main event, many carried lit torches, shields, guns, and other weapons. The groups came ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in this university town, but participants made Nazi salutes in mass, chanted “blood and soil” and lobbed racial slurs at protesters including some with Black Lives Matter signs.
After police cleared the protest area, a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting against the white supremacists, killing a 20-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people, including one with a skull fracture.
The driver, 20-year-old Alex Fields Jr., was seen accelerating to build up speed for several blocks before striking the crowd. He has been arrested and charged with second degree murder. His teacher says Fields was a Nazi sympathizer, the Washington Post reports. The FBI has announced it has opened a civil rights investigation into the attack, also seeking to determine if the driver acted alone or if others may have been involved.
Two state troopers monitoring the protest also died when their helicopter crashed.
The local organizer of the Unite the Right Rally, Jason Kessler, tried to hold a news conference the day after the killings but was drowned out by protesters shouting “murderer” and blaring horns. He ran away and was tackled; police intervened to whisk him away. Later he tweeted that “violence rules over speech and ideas in #Charlottesville.”
Charlottesville’s Mayor Michael Signer said on CNN that the victims “didn’t need to die.” He faulted Trump for courting white supremacists in his campaign and repeatedly refusing to condemn such groups, adding, “Two things need to be said over and over again—domestic terrorism and white supremacy.”
President Donald Trump, speaking to media at Trump National Golf Club while on vacation in New Jersey, said of the Charlottesville tragedy, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.”
Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists specifically and his misleading inference that the violence in Charlottesville had arisen from anyone other than the racist hate groups there has drawn stinging criticism from leaders in both political parties.
The President’s silence on white supremacist violence continues a pattern of ignoring attacks by racists and white wing groups, such as a bombing of a mosque in Minnesota.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, urged the President to say, “White supremacy is an affront to American values.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, tweeted, “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who was traveling in Colombia, stated, “We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo Nazis or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate,” he said, but added, “The president also made clear that behavior by others of different militant perspectives are also unacceptable in our political debate and discourse.”
Pence promised that the administration would bring the Justice Department’s full resources to “investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News that the white supremacists “seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House, “ adding, “I would urge the President to dissuade them of the [idea] that he is sympathetic to their cause.”
The King Center, founded by Corretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, tweeted, “Racism never left America.”
San Diego Democratic Congressman Scott Peters tweeted, “These expressions of racism and hatred are neither American nor Christian, and all the patriotic and devout should say so.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said of the Charlottesville attacks, “Violent acts of hate and bigotry have no place in America.
California Senator Kamala Harris stated, “This hate is against everything America stands for. We must all stand united against it.”
The incident has also drawn international condemnation. British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with #Charlottesville. The UK stands with the US against racism, hatred and violence.”
Israel’s Education minster Naftali Bennett called on the White house to condemn Nazi symbols used at the rally. "It is on the leaders of the U.S. to condemn and denounce manifestations of anti-Semitism that we have seen in recent days,” the Israeli minister said.
A planned prayer vigil for murdered Heather Heyer was cancelled due to a threat of violence, but some turned out to march in her memory despite the threat. USA Today reports that Victoria Jackson, a coworker and friend, remembered Heyer for standing up for what she believed in, adding, “She was a beautiful soul.”
The vicious attacks, far from intimidating people, are having exactly the opposite effect.
In Charlottesville, racists in the Unite the Right rally were drowned out by religious leaders and others who formed a line singing,”This little light of mine,” drowning out curses and slurs, NBC reported.
Following the murder and serious injures to peaceful protesters, some took to the streets in Charlottesville carrying flowers in memory of Heyer.
In cities across the nation, those horrified by the racial violence in Charlottesville swiftly organized peaceful marches and protests, taking a stand against hatred—drawing far larger crowds collectively than Unite the Right.