The nation is still assessing the after-shocks of the death of 32-year old Heather Heyer, two state policemen and 34 other people injured during a violent confrontation between White supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, August 12.
White supremacists converged on the university town to protest the city’s planned removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee from public space.
The coalition of groups included supporters and members of the KKK and the Aryan nations. Many of them protesting at the site of the statue were armed with semiautomatic weapons, dressed in protective gear and carrying flags and posters with racist graffiti embossed on them.
On Friday night, the coalition of racists had marched through the campus of the University of Virginia (UVA) carrying tiki torches and chanting “you will not replace us” and “white lives matter” as they faced off against counter-protesters at the statue, according to a local TV station report.
Police arrived on the scene and declared the assembly unlawful. Fights broke out between the two groups of demonstrators, with some marchers swinging their torches. University police said one protester was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct
Protestors assembled again on Saturday to demonstrate against the statue’s removal. Then afterwards at a downtown pedestrian mall, the coalition encountered and confronted counter-protestors. It was there that fighting broke out amid loud and nasty chants.
The most heinous event took place when James Alex Fields, Jr., 20, from Ohio, allegedly drove his car into a crowd of the counterprotestors, killing Heyer and injuring 23 other people.
Later that afternoon, two Virginia State Policemen, in a helicopter, observing the activities on the ground, died when the aircraft crashed. The cause is still being investigated.
On Sunday, August 13, during an interview on NPR’s Sunday Editions, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, who is the lone Black member of Charlottesville City Council, talked about the incident.
He spearheaded the effort to remove the confederate monuments from downtown Charlottesville. He said that the White supremacist actions were prompted by more than the removal of the stone image of General Robert E. Lee.
“This is about white supremacy. And this is about the notion of different individuals of the majority race. And they believe that they are superior to anyone who is not of the, quote, unquote, “white pure race,” Bellamy said. “They want to try and invoke fear. And that’s been their (Modus Operandi) M.O. ever since, in my opinion. I also would like to add to the point that when we talk about the city of Charlottesville, again, this is a city that I absolutely love, but let’s not act as if this city does not have a history.”
“This is the same city that chose to close down the schools, opposed to integrating them,” Bellamy said. “This is a city which literally tore down and bulldozed an entire African-American community, Vinegar Hill. So, I mean, we’ve had issues here for a very long time. And now that it’s coming to the surface. The majority, like these White supremacy groups, feel as if they can be emboldened. And they’re using 45, their president, as well as the statue issue to spew their hate.”
President Donald Trump initially issued a subdued response to the event, causing a fire storm of criticism, not only from the predictable liberal corner of the nation’s political house, but from established conservative ones as well.
On Monday, August 14, after prodding from various political factions and the media, Trump called out members of the racist coalition which contributed to the mayhem in Virginia.
Trump denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name and announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the death of the counter-protester on Saturday.
“Anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held accountable,” Trump said in brief remarks to reporters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
However, the following day, on August 15, Trump reverted to defending the far-right protesters, who he said were not all neo-Nazis and White supremacists.
“You had a group on one side and group on the other and they came at each other with clubs – there is another side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
By Leonard E. Colvin