Tragedy struck Charlottesville, Virginia today which began with violent skirmishes between white supremacists and counter-protesters leaving 15 injured. The violence escalated to a deadly domestic terrorist attack resulting in the death of a 32 year old woman and 19 injured; five of the injured were listed in critical condition, four others in serious condition, six were in fair condition, and four others in good condition, according to the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System.
In a cowardly display of cold-hearted brutality, a vehicle moving at high speed plowed into a gathering of pedestrians in downtown Charlottesville. James Alex Fields, Jr., of Ohio, was arrested near the scene and charged with second-degree murder, as well as other charges. Because Fields crossed state lines, possibly with intent to join white supremacist alt-right groups, the FBI is opening a civil rights investigation.
It is not hard to fathom the amount of hatred that consumed this small city, which lies just over an hour’s drive from the Virginia governor’s mansion in Richmond, unless one comprehends the historical events which led to this attack.
Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer were two of the leaders who organized the rally of white supremacists, white nationalists and other far-right fascist groups. The rally, termed “Unite the Right,” sought to “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests.” In May of this year, there was another rally of far-right extremists in Charlottesville who assembled to demonstrate their objection to the pending removal of a statue dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The statue currently rests in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park. In April, the local city council voted to remove the statue from the park. However, a judge subsequently stayed the removal for six months.
It is worth noting that Robert E. Lee is venerated by white supremacists not only because he was a prominent Confederate general, but also, and perhaps more so, due to the fact that it was Lee who endured the shame of surrendering to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, effectively ending the Civil War. Hence, the framing of the narrative that the removal of Lee’s statue is an attempt to “erase” the legacy of the Confederacy. While it seems reprehensible that groups and individuals wish to eulogize a confederacy created to destroy United States and championed the preservation of slavery and injustice, this narrative has gained traction.
It is also worth mentioning that the impetus to remove Lee’s statue from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, just as a statue of Robert E. Lee was recently removed in New Orleans, is a direct after-effect of the 2015 massacre of nine African-Americans by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina. The chain reaction to Dylan Roof’s mass murder has also led to the Confederate flag being removed from the State grounds in South Carolina’s capital of Columbia.
What’s yet to be determined is the extent to which President Donald Trump is willing to acknowledge and confront the rise in radicalism from domestic terrorists on the far right. There has been an alarming rise in violent and intimidating acts perpetrated by those on the far right since early 2017. Many have suggested that right-wing extremists feel emboldened, entitled, and to a degree, protected, by the new administration. In his remarks shortly after the domestic terrorist attack in Charlottesville, President Trump’s words fell noticeably short of condemning the provocative actions and behavior of the white nationalists and white supremacists. This is not a matter of happenstance. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump coveted the vote of those on the far right and still today recognizes them as a strong part of his “base” supporters. It is no secret that he deliberately played to the nationalist and extremist sensibilities of the alt-right and others on the fringe. We recall that time and time again, Trump condoned and promoted violence at his campaign rallies with an astounding carelessness of the potential ramifications from his rhetoric. By naming Stephen K. Bannon as the CEO of his presidential campaign and subsequently making Bannon his White House Chief Strategist (among other West Wing denizens of similar ilk), Trump continues to validate both the violent message and the methodology of white supremacists, white nationalists, the Klu Klux Klan and the alt-right. True patriotic Americans – to include Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims, and Jews – need to hear some comforting words from their president. Silence is consent.
IP Staff Writer