POLITICS

How What Happened Here In Charlottesville Was Inevitable

13/08/2017 11:03 PM IST | Updated 15/08/2017 8:11 PM IST
Andy Campbell
Demonstrators hold Confederate and Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Andy Campbell
Demonstrators hold Confederate and Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Virginia.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The ground underneath the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park Saturday night was littered with evidence of President Donald Trump’s cultivation of the far right: protest signs with messages like “The Jewish Media Is Going Down,” “The Goyim Know” and “We Support President Donald Trump.”

Only several hours earlier here, white supremacist demonstrators and counter-protesters had engaged in open combat for hours. The sounds of screams had mixed with the sounds of people coughing, their lungs full of mace. Tear gas canisters and rocks and full water bottles and bags of feces flew through the air. Blood stained the sidewalk.

A few blocks away at the intersection of Fourth Street and Water Street Saturday night, police collected evidence from where a 20-year-old white supremacist named James Alex Fields Jr. had allegedly plowed his car into marching counter-protesters, sending bodies flying. A 32-year-old paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed and at least 19 others were injured. Police removed metal barricades from the street as a helicopter circled overhead. Nearby bars, usually bustling on a Saturday night, were shuttered and empty. On the sidewalk, a lone “Always Anti-Fascist” poster — dropped or discarded during the day’s chaos — stared up from the sidewalk.

“We’re coming back to Charlottesville." White nationalist organizer Eli Mosley.

Meanwhile, at a friend’s house in the area, 25-year-old Eli Mosley stepped away from a party he and his white supremacist buddies in the “alt-right” group Identity Evropa were enjoying to talk to HuffPost over the phone. His voice was hoarse. He had spent the day screaming and chanting among thousands of like-minded people carrying Nazi and Confederate flags to protest the potential removal of the giant Lee statue in the park. The Anti-Defamation League said it was the largest gathering of white supremacists in more than a decade.

“Our people are feeling real good right now,” he said. “We view this is as a civil rights movement at this point. We’re advocating for white rights and white people, who will soon be a minority in this country. This day was a milestone pushing us into our next stage. We had a large turnout.”

“We’re coming back to Charlottesville,” he added defiantly.

PAUL J. RICHARDS via Getty Images
People receive first aid after a car drove into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The clashes like the one in Charlottesville are largely a phenomenon of the Trump era. Over the past year, HuffPost has followed the white nationalists in their escalating war with their extremist opposite, from Berkeley to Portland to New Orleans to Gettysburg. In May, again in Charlottesville, white nationalists marched with torches and chanted Nazi slogans. Over the course of these battles, each side has grown angrier, and more heavily armed.

Eli Mosley is typical of the “alt-right” movement ― the latest incarnation of organized racism in America ― which has grown exponentially larger since Donald Trump announced his run for the White House. He’s young and media-savvy and knew how to bring thousands of white supremacists together for Saturday’s “Unite The Right” rally.   

Years ago people like Mosley saw themselves as a fringe group in American politics. Now, under Trump, they feel like their views are gaining momentum, even becoming mainstream, they say.

In Trump’s statement about Charlottesville Saturday, he refused to specifically condemn the white supremacists who besieged this picturesque college town. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides ― on many sides,” he told reporters during a late-afternoon news conference in New Jersey. 

White supremacists were more than pleased with his reaction. “Trump’s comments were good,” read a post on the prominent white nationalist site Daily Stormer as they live-blogged yesterday’s events. 

“He refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him,” the post continued. “No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

With a president of the United States not condemning Nazism, and after over a year of signaling his support for white nationalism, experts are deeply concerned that we’re in store for political violence even worse than the kind that visited Charlottesville.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A counter-protester strikes a white nationalist with a baton during clashes at Emancipation Park where the "alt-right" was protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia.

That’s because an emboldened fringe right, has in turn, emboldened the far left. Professor Brian Levin, head of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said in an interview with HuffPost by phone that the fatality and injuries Saturday ensure that the “much smaller and less coalesced far left,” which includes anti-fascist or Antifa protesters, would go looking for “revenge.”

“It’s a reciprocal dance of extremism,” Levin said.

Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, agreed. When anti-fascists show up to violently fight white supremacists, she said, it only gives “oxygen” to the white supremacist cause.

“We’re concerned this is going to spill out of Charlottesville into many other places,” she added.

Something that would go a long way in breaking this vicious cycle, they both agreed, is decisive action from the White House.

In a statement Sunday the Anti-Defamation League spelled out what that action could be. The group called on Trump to “terminate all staff” with any ties to white nationalists, likely referring to prominent White House advisers Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, all of whom are linked to racist, fringe figures and groups.

“This is a moment that demands moral leadership,” ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “President Trump should acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.”

Win McNamee via Getty Images
A man tends a makeshift candlelight vigil for those who died and were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators marching near a downtown shopping area.

On Sunday morning, Eli Mosley said he was preparing to leave the house where he had partied and slept the night before with his fellow white nationalists. He said he thought Trump’s comments were “neutral in a way” that he liked.

He claimed to have lost his job three months ago after being exposed as a white nationalist online. He said he’s working full-time now as an alt-right organizer. For this new life, he said he was preparing to drive home to Pennsylvania Sunday so he could pack his things for a move to Virginia.

In Virginia, he said, he could more easily organize the next big alt-right rallies in the state capital, Richmond, and of course, in Charlottesville.

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