Charlottesville IS The USA
America, White Supremacy and us.
The Charlottesville White Supremacist Rally
"Nazi kills one, injures dozens in Charlottesville, Virginia."
"Teacher says as a student, James Alex Fields loved Hitler."
"Fellow student says when visiting Nazi concentration camp James Alex Fields said, ‘This is where the magic happened’."
We are used to political and religious mayhem in 2017, but did we ever expect to see Nazism writ large in American headlines? A hashtag sprang up on Twitter in response to the events in Charlottesville on the weekend of August 11: #ThisIsNotUs, it declared.
Except, of course, it is absolutely us. We need only to look at our own White House and the man posing as president there to know, yes, this IS us. Were it not us, Trump would not be president. That is a grim fact Charlottesville has forced us to face, whether we want to continue to blame "economic anxiety" or whether we want to acknowledge how deeply entrenched racism and anti-Semitism remain in America.
History won’t let us forget. This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans and the blood of black slaves. So sadly, irrefutably, this IS us. And the man in the White House is both the culmination of how much this is us and the reason Charlottesville happened.
The August 12 violence played out in real time over a split screen on CNN. The #UniteTheRight rally in Charlottesville had been planned for weeks. White nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKK and other supporters of "Europeans Americans" and those concerned about "white genocide" were protesting plans to remove a statue of Confederate secessionist Gen. Robert E. Lee from Lee Park.
It was the second such rally in as many months in Charlottesville. This time, white supremacists were met by anti-Trump and anti-racist counter-protesters, as well as members of the black-clad AntiFa movement.
Bigots with tiki torches Via NBC
The night before, several hundred white men carrying Tiki torches and chanting "Jews will not replace us" and other anti-Semitic, homophobic and racial epithets swarmed the University of Virginia (UVA) campus. Many raised their arms in the Seig Heil Nazi salute.
While the march and small counter-protest on the UVA campus had been mostly peaceful, save for some shouting back and forth, the violence at the #UniteTheRight rally escalated quickly. Before long Heather Heyer, 32, had been killed and dozens of others were injured, several critically when Fields deliberately drove his car into the peaceful anti-racist protesters.
Two state troopers would also die as their helicopter crashed while surveying the rally. Democratic Gov.Terry McAuliffe announced a state of emergency while the whole world watched Charlottesville, a pretty, quiet, university town of 46,597 descend into a kind of madness.
President Trump, on a working vacation in New Jersey, gave a live televised statement. A statement which did not acknowledge the murdered woman nor call out white supremacists by name. Trump also asserted that there was "hatred and bigotry" "on many sides," using one of his classic and casual false equivalencies to suggest the counter-protesters were somehow the same as white nationalists, Nazis and KKK who have a history of violence and lynching in America.
Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted, "There is only one side," while former President Obama tweeted a quote from Nelson Mandela’s memoir, "Long Walk to Freedom." Obama’s tweet is the third most liked in Twitter history, with more than two million likes and more than a million retweets.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
Hillary Clinton sent off a series of tweets, in which she did not mention Trump by name, but her inference was clear. "My heart is in Charlottesville today, and with everyone made to feel unsafe in their country....But the incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets....Every minute we allow this to persist through tacit encouragement or inaction is a disgrace, & corrosive to our values....Now is the time for leaders to be strong in their words & deliberate in their actions....We will not step backward. If this is not who we are as Americans, let's prove it."
It was a painful weekend for America. It’s not that we haven’t seen racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic violence before. Such violence is a regrettable staple of American life.
What has not been a staple was the overt Nazism in an American city and the failure—failure—of a sitting president to decry such violence as inherently anti-American and counter to every value this country espouses, even if it doesn’t always practice those values as a nation.
Nearly a half million Americans died in World War II fighting Nazism and fascism. American soldiers liberated five concentration camps, including the notorious Dachau and Buchenwald. Post-war, America became a haven for Jewish refugees—even though Jews fleeing Nazi Germany had been turned away prior to the U.S. entering the war.
There are now as many Jews living in the United States as there are in Israel. That history makes the events in Charlottesville, replete with swastikas and Nazi flags, Confederate flags and white power symbols all the more sickening.
Some Republican Establishment figures—congressmen and pundits—tried to distance themselves from Trump’s failure to lead, speaking out against White Nationalism and the KKK. But there’s an underlying hypocrisy in those aversive statements: each and every one of those people has supported Trump and his overtly racialized message.
Senators tweeting their own messages decrying the events in Charlottesville and Trump’s failure to call out the nationalists still voted en banc in February for Jeff Sessions, then-Alabama senator and renowned racist, for attorney general. Among the people protesting Sessions’ appointment as chief civil rights officer of the land was the late Coretta Scott King, widow of assassinated civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In February, during Sessions’ confirmation hearings, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had tried to read the 1986 letter Mrs. King had written to protest Sessions being considered for a federal judgeship, but was silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In that letter Mrs. King writes, "Mr. Sessions' conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge."
And now Sessions will be leading the civil rights investigation into the Nazi assault on Charlottesville.
Washington and the pundit class can equivocate all it wants, but what happened in Charlottesville can be laid directly at the feet of Donald Trump. His failure for two long days to speak to who caused the violence and why was unsurprising. As Hillary Clinton tweeted a year ago nearly to the day, at the end of the Democratic National Convention,
“Here's the sad truth: There is no other Donald Trump. This is it.” —Hillary— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 29, 2016
But Trump is culpable. He has built his brand on racism and it is essential we not forget that stark reality. In 1973 the Justice Department investigated Trump for racial bias in renting his properties. Forms submitted by black applicants were marked with a "C" for colored.
For nearly six years Trump perpetuated (and may have founded) birtherism—the theory that Barack Obama was not an American citizen, but had been born in Kenya, not Hawaii, which would make it illegal for him to be president. In September 2016, Trump abruptly stated that he was no longer pursuing that theory. He gave no explanation and reporters were given no answers. But throughout Obama’s presidency, Trump had stoked the fires of illegitimacy of the first black president with 67 tweets and countless other references to Obama’s place of birth.
Previously, Trump had called for the executions of the Central Park Five—five juveniles: four black, one Latino—who were accused of the violent assault on Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, in April 1989.
While jogging in Central Park near her apartment, Meili was attacked, raped, sodomized, stabbed five times and beaten, she sustained injuries so severe, she was in a coma for two weeks. Her skull was fractured in 21 places, she lost an eye and lost 80 percent of her blood volume. She spent six months in the hospital recovering from her injuries and had to learn how to walk and talk again.
The case of the Central Park Five is one of the most significant in Trump’s racist history. He pushed for their conviction, taking out a full page ad in the New York Times at the cost of $85,000 addressing the case and his power in New York was not immaterial. Story after story cites Trump’s influence on both the prosecution and subsequent incarceration of the five.
The five young men, who spent between six and 13 years in prison, were not guilty of the crime. In 2001 another man—convicted of several rapes and the murder of a different victim—confessed to the crime. DNA evidence concluded he was the perpetrator. The statute of limitations had expired on the jogger case, so Meili never got justice and five young men—two only 14 at the time of the crime—were imprisoned for years.
Trump’s obsession with men of color raping white women was evidenced again when he announced his candidacy two years ago. He asserted a wall must be built between Mexico and the U.S.—something he later promised at his rallies. Trump called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, alluding to the white supremacist trope that brown men were coming into the country to rape white women. Trump’s call for a "Muslim ban" as candidate and executive order banning travel from majority Muslim countries was more reinforcement of white supremacist view of Muslims.
There is no racial or ethnic group Trump has not maligned, both as a candidate and as president. In addition to Sessions, Trump has chosen other figures with disturbingly racist and even white nationalist pasts for his Cabinet and staff. His most recent hire, retired Gen. Jack Kelly, has a history of Islamophobia and has been a main proponent of the wall with Mexico.
Trump’s chief advisor and former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, was CEO of the extremist Breitbart news site. Breitbart, as I wrote last November and again in February, has been a locus for white nationalist tropes and fake news stories about Muslims, immigrants, Jews, lesbians and trans persons.
Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller recently took the White House press briefing podium after the sudden firing of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director—the third firing in as many weeks of high-level staff by the president. Miller, previously cited for failing to write a Holocaust Memorial Day statement for Trump, referenced "cosmopolitan bias" in an exchange with a reporter. That term has an ugly anti-Semitic history and is a Stalinist term for Jews.
On Saturday, after Trump’s speech, former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke, who previously endorsed Trump during the election, initially applauded Trump’s statement. On the Daily Stormer white nationalist site and throughout Reddit and other social media, Trump’s statement was roundly viewed by nationalists as a statement supportive of them specifically because of the "many sides" and refusal to note white supremacists.
That 69 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voted for Trump despite his ugly racist history and blatant use of repeated racial and ethnic slurs is disturbing and validates the racism of his base.
That a preponderance of red "Make American Great Again" hats were worn by the white nationalists and Nazis should have caused Trump to disavow their wearers immediately. That he did not is cause for concern. Trump forgets, though we do not, that the majority of voters chose Hillary Clinton and her platform which addressed systemic racism resoundingly.
It’s tempting to view Charlottesville and the tragic murder of Heather Heyer, who was by all accounts a warm and generous person with a deep commitment to social justice, as anomalous.
The 62 million who voted for Trump weren’t bothered by his racism, his anti-Semitism, his support for anti-gay and anti-trans legislation and legislators. The 62 million who voted for Trump weren’t bothered by his boasting of grabbing women by their genitalia nor his attacks on a POW or a Gold Star family. The 62 million who voted for Trump weren’t bothered by rallies where he stoked that hate of immigrants and people of color. The 62 million who voted for Trump were voting against progress and to return to a status quo he promised them where there would be "no time for political correctness" and no more breaking from the 240 year tradition of white men in the White House.
It’s tempting to view Charlottesville as just a perfect storm of angry and frustration at losing emblems of a history that has been distorted to mean something heroic instead of something that nearly sundered a nation. It’s tempting to dismiss Charlottesville as–some pundits were doing this Monday morning—"young men who don’t know better."
But what 20-year-old doesn’t know that cars kill people every day in accidents while ramming a car full-throttle into a crowd of people was bound to end in injury and death?
Since the November election we’ve been regaled with stories of economic anxiety from white men who voted for Trump. Yet the women who are lowest on America’s pay scale—black and Latina women—were the two groups who voted most for Hillary Clinton, 94 percent and 78 percent.
It’s tempting to make excuses for why we ever built monuments to men who tried to subvert the Union, but we know the answers, just as we know the answers to why until last year Confederate flags flew all across the South on federal and state buildings.
Charlottesville has to be a wake up call for the un-woke white people of America who have been intentionally blind to the man they elected. Charlottesville has to mark both a beginning of a new perspective on racism and anti-Semitism and the demarcations of hate speech and hateful acts in America and an end to the toadying to a Civil War that was lost by the people who should have lost and won by the people who stood for the best of America.
There are grim days ahead–more than three years worth—as we wait out this term of what deserves to be no more than a one-term presidency. The aftermath of Charlottesville will resonate across the country. On August 19 a similar event is planned in Boston with many of the same Alt Right speakers. Whether Boston will shut it down to prevent another Charlottesville or let it continue remains to be seen. But that the Alt Right feels so emboldened by this presidency cannot be ignored as Hillary Clinton’s barely oblique tweets suggest.
Trump and his supporters claim Barack Obama stoked racial animus during his presidency, but Obama reached out to all Americans while Trump agitates among his base.
Trump missed an opportunity to lay blame where it belongs: at the feet of white supremacy. He missed the opportunity to say, "My daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner and I don’t want my grandchildren hearing anti-Semitic hate speech from neo-Nazis."
It is up to us—to those Americans who know the ugly legacy of white supremacy and how much it has wounded a full third of this country—to change the narrative. It is up to us to be more like Heather Heyer was and fight for equity. It is up to us to do what our president has consistently failed to do: embrace our fellow Americans and move this country forward not back. It is up to us to make a better nation than the one that built those monuments and put men who tried to sunder this nation in defense of slavery on a pedestal. It is up to us to take down those monuments and render that history past. It is up to us to learn from Charlottesville and refuse to allow another Nazi killing in America.
This video details what happened in Charlottesville. The language is graphic. But these are the "fine people"--white supremacists--Trump claims were "peacefully protesting."