Prologue: White Supremacist Groups planned ‘Unite The Right’ a huge rally to take place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazis, Racist Skinheads and other hate groups would bring thousands to prevent the removal of the statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The event began Friday night, August 11, when a torchlit parade of hundreds of Neo Nazis marched across the green lawns of the University of Virginia campus and circled a statue of the founder, President Thomas Jefferson. That was their arrival statement. By morning, the White Supremacist groups were gathering in the city park near Robert E. Lee’s statue. They waved Confederate flags, chanted Nazi slogans, wore helmets and carried shields. Some wore fake military fatigues with U.S. Marine logos and chanted, “Jews will never replace us; You will never replace us…”
Earlier in the day, hundreds of counter protesters – religious leaders, Black Lives Matter, anti-fascist groups – had surrounded the park, singing spirituals, chanting and carrying their own signs. By eleven a.m. both sides made their way to Emancipation Park where racial taunts, shoving and brawling began. Barricades separating the two sides came down. Police were unable to quell the increasing turmoil and mayhem, captured live by TV cameras for the nation and world to witness. Using pepper spray, the police cleared the area before noon as the Virginia National Guard arrived. After the rally was dispersed, a car crashed into a crowd of counter-protesters near a downtown mall, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Witnesses said the white male driver appeared to accelerate directly into the people. He sped away but was apprehended by the police and charged with second degree murder.
Across the South, statues of Confederate generals and the Confederate flag have been removed during recent years in major cities. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley defused possible mob violence when she ordered the peaceful removal of the Confederate flag from atop the capitol in Richmond. In Charlottesville, Governor Terry McAuliffe, Democrat, declared a state of emergency and spoke forcefully within the hour, saying “The Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazis have no place in Charlottesville. They have no place in America!”
Leaders of the White Supremacists included David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, head of the Alt-right movement where Nazi salutes and haircuts are sported by white male members. On Saturday, before the rally, David Duke said their marchers “would fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”to “take our country back.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, the leading organization that tracks and reports upon active hate groups in the United States, has documented the increased numbers in hate group members since the campaign and election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. They publish Intelligence Reports four times a year. There are over 900 hate groups in the United States; they are clustered in the East and South of the country. The Ku Klux Klan is by far the largest, followed by Neo Nazi, White Nationalist and Racist Skinhead. It is important to note that all active hate group memberships shot up dramatically with the election of Barack Obama, our first black president in 2008. They stayed high during both of his terms in office. Now, it appears they are continuing, as the high percent of white voters for Donald Trump feel empowered once more.
Aftermath: Who spoke out and who did not. The first public response from the White House came from Melania Trump who wrote on Twitter, “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.” President Donald J.Trump made a brief statement later in the day from the porch of his golf resort in Bedminster New Jersey to reporters who had gathered. He called for an end to the “hatred, bigotry and violence” , but spread the blame to this in country to “ many sides”…. “many sides”.
Immediate criticism erupted from Republicans, Democrats and media & TV commentators who were shocked that the president did not identify the groups who had brought “hatred, bigotry and violence” to Charlottesville. Senator Cory Gardner, Republican leader of the National Republican Campaign, tweeted, “Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House, wrote on Twitter at noon on August 11. “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this vile bigotry.”
Meanwhile, David Duke was among the few Trump critics who thought the president had gone too far. He wrote on Twitter, “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror and remember it was white Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” Richard Spencer, head of Alt-right, created an online video, “A message to Charlottesville”. Spencer vowed to return to the college town. “You think we’re going to back down to this kind of behavior, to you and your little provincial town. No. We’re going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.”
On Sunday, the president remained strangely silent, sending no tweets. The White House sent an unsigned email to reporters in the traveling press pool. “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course, that includes white supremacists, neo-Nazis, K.K.K. and all extremists groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.” Most critics remained unimpressed with this attempt to bolster the president’s original remarks.
Epilogue: The Daily Stormer, a leading white supremacist website, excitedly reacted to Trump’s second statement: “He didn’t attack us. Refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really , really good. God bless him.”
David Duke was quoted as saying, We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for him.”
……………………………………………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson