White nationalist protesters clash with police during the rally
|Date||August 11–12, 2017|
|Location||Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.|
|Theme||Protest the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials from public spaces|
|Organized by||Jason Kessler|
The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) was a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, from August 11–12, 2017. Its stated goal was to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, which itself had been renamed by City Council from ''Lee Park'' two months earlier. Protesters included white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and various militias. Some of the marchers chanted racist and anti-semitic slogans, carried semi-automatic rifles, swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic banners, and "Trump/Pence" signs.
The rally occurred amidst the backdrop of controversy generated by the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the country in response to the Charleston church shooting in 2015. The event turned violent after protesters clashed with counterprotesters, leaving 14 injured. On the morning of August 12, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, stating that public safety could not be safeguarded without additional powers. Within an hour, the Virginia State Police declared the assembly to be unlawful. At around 1:45 p.m, a man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) away from the rally site, killing one person and injuring 19. Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the ramming as domestic terrorism, and authorities began a civil rights investigation to determine if the driver will be tried under hate crime statutes.
In his initial statement on the rally, U.S. President Donald Trump did not denounce white nationalists by name, instead blaming "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides." His statement and his subsequent defenses of it were criticized as implying moral equivalence between the white supremacist marchers and those who protested against white supremacy, with critics interpreting it as a sign that he was sympathetic to the white supremacists.
In the wake of the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, efforts were made across the country to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces and rename streets honoring notable figures from the Confederacy. While often successful, those efforts often faced a backlash from conservatives or people concerned about protecting their Confederate heritage. The August 11–12 rally was organized to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue honoring the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, which had been renamed from Lee Park in June 2016. The event was organized by Jason Kessler who had taken up the cause in March 2016 when Charlottesville vice-mayor Wes Bellamy held a press conference to call for removal of the statue. Kessler who refers to Bellamy as "anti-white" had exposed a series of offensive tweets made by Bellamy and unsuccessfully tried to remove him from office.
On May 13, 2017, white supremacist Richard Spencer led the 'Take-Back Lee Park' rally, a protest in Charlottesville against the city's plans to remove the statue of Lee. The event involved protesters holding torches near the statue. That same night, a candlelight counterprotest took place.
The Ku Klux Klan held another rally in Charlottesville on July 8. About 50 Klan members and 1,000 counterprotesters gathered at a loud but nonviolent rally; the Klan members left the park after about 45 minutes. In opposition to the rally, the Charlottesville Clergy Collective created a safe space at First United Methodist Church, which was used by over 600 people.
Among the far-right groups engaged in organizing the march were the clubs of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, The Right Stuff, the National Policy Institute, and four groups that form the Nationalist Front: the neo-Confederate League of the South, the Traditionalist Workers Party, Vanguard America, and the National Socialist Movement. Other groups involved in the rally were the Ku Klux Klan, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, the 3 Percenters, Identity Evropa, the Oath Keepers, the American Guard, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the New York Light Foot Militia, the Virginia Minutemen Militia, the Detroit Right Wings, the Rise Above Movement, True Cascadia, and Anti-Communist Action.
Prominent far-right figures in attendance included National Policy Institute Chairman Richard Spencer, entertainer Baked Alaska, former Libertarian Party candidate Augustus Invictus, former Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, Identity Evropa leader Nathan Damigo, Traditionalist Youth Network CEO Matthew Heimbach, Rebel Media journalist Faith Goldy, Right Stuff founder Mike Enoch, League of the South founder Michael Hill, Red Ice host Henrik Palmgren, Right Side Broadcasting Network host Nicholas Fuentes, YouTube personality James Allsup, AltRight.com editor Daniel Friberg, former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, Right Stuff blogger Johnny Monoxide, Daily Stormer writer Robert "Azzmador" Ray, Daily Caller contributor and rally organizer Jason Kessler, and Radical Agenda host Christopher Cantwell. Gavin McInnes, the leader of the self-described "Western chauvinist" Proud Boys group, was invited to attend but declined because of an unwillingness "to be associated with explicit neo-Nazis." In June, ahead of the rally, McInnes declared that "we need to distance ourselves from them," but "after backlash to the original disavowal flared-up from Alt-Right circles, the statement was withdrawn and replaced with another distancing the Proud Boys from the event yet also encouraging those who 'feel compelled' to attend."
Airbnb cancelled a number of bookings and accounts when it learned that they were being used by attendees at the rally, citing a request that users endorse a commitment to "accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age."
Those who marched in opposition to the rally were unified in opposition to white supremacy, but "espoused a wide array of ideological beliefs, preferred tactics and political goals. A large number were ordinary residents of Charlottesville who wanted to show their disdain for white supremacist groups, particularly after the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in the city on July 8." Ahead of the rally, an array of "faith-based groups, civil rights organizations, local businesses, and faculty and students at the University of Virginia" planned counterprotests. In July 2017, the ecumenical and interfaith clergy group Congregate Charlottesville called for a thousand members of the clergy to counterprotest at the rally. Groups counterprotesting included representatives from the National Council of Churches, Black Lives Matter, Anti-Racist Action, Antifa, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Workers World Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Redneck Revolt, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, and Showing Up for Racial Justice.
The rally occurred when the University of Virginia was between its summer and fall terms. On August 4, University of Virginia (UVA) President Teresa Sullivan sent an e-mail to students and faculty, which said, "I urge students and all UVA community members to avoid the August 12 rally and avoid physical confrontation generally. There is a credible risk of violence at this event, and your safety is my foremost concern." The University of Virginia Medical Center canceled all elective surgeries and preemptively activated its emergency response plan.
Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the rally, applied for a permit from the City of Charlottesville to hold the event at Emancipation Park. The week before the event, the Charlottesville government—including Mayor Michael Signer, city council, City Manager Maurice Jones, and Police Chief Al Thomas—said they would approve the permit only if the event was moved to the larger McIntire Park. The city's leaders cited safety concerns and logistical issues associated with holding the event at Emancipation Park, adjacent to the densely populated Downtown Mall. Kessler refused to agree to relocate the rally, but the City relocated the rally anyway, a decision praised by the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville.
Kessler, supported by the Rutherford Institute and the ACLU, sued the City of Charlottesville and Jones on First Amendment grounds in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. On the evening of August 11, the night before the rally, Judge Glen E. Conrad granted an emergency injunction declaring that the Unite the Right rally could go forward. Conrad granted the injunction for the rally citing several factors: that Emancipation Park was the location for the statue of Robert E. Lee that was planned to be taken down and that the rally was partially for, that resources would be needed at both parks for both the rally and the counterprotesters, and that the move to McIntire Park was due to the viewpoints of the organizer and not the safety of the public. The court's decision was praised by the ACLU. Mayor Signer issued a statement saying: "While the City is disappointed by tonight's ruling, we will abide by the judge's decision. ... Chief Thomas, his team and the hundreds of law enforcement officials in our City will now turn their full attention to protecting the Downtown area during tomorrow's events."
Prior to the rally, counterprotesters obtained permit(s) to gather at McGuffey Park and Justice Park, both less than a quarter-mile distant from the Emancipation Park rally. Charlottesville City Council spokeswoman Miriam I. Dickler later stated that counterprotesters did not need permits to protest the rally at Emancipation Park.
Tensions increased on the evening of Friday, August 11 when a group of white nationalists—variously numbered at dozens or around 100—marched through the University of Virginia's campus from Nameless Field to The Lawn. The group was primarily composed of white men, many carrying tiki torches.
At the Rotunda, the group encountered counterprotesters next to a statue of Thomas Jefferson. The white nationalists encircled the smaller group of counterprotesters at the base of the statue, and a brawl ensued. Several people on both sides were reportedly hit with pepper spray, and several people were treated for minor injuries. The white nationalists began swinging and throwing their lit tiki torches amid the chaos. Virginia State Police came to break up the brawl.
The Cavalier Daily reported, "While waiting for rides at Nameless Field after the march, several of the 'alt-right' protesters hurled anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic slurs at several reporters and community members asking them questions. One man asking questions was thrown to the ground and surrounded by marchers after a brief physical altercation." Mayor Michael Signer condemned the gathering, writing the following: "When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march."
Some waved Confederate flags, and others held posters targeting Jews that read "the Goyim know", using the word for non-Jews, as well as "the Jewish media is going down". Protesters also shouted racial slurs and "Jew" when Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer was mentioned, and they waved Nazi flags and signs claiming, among other things, that "Jews are Satan's children". Dozens wore Donald Trump's red "Make America Great Again" campaign hats.
Counterprotests began with an interfaith, interracial group of clergy who linked arms, prayed, and sang songs of peace such as This Little Light of Mine. The small group was surrounded by neo-Fascists; public intellectual Cornel West later averred that "we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20," given that the police had pulled back, and was certain that their lives had been saved. Later in the day, counterprotesters chanted slogans including "Kill All Nazis" and "punch a Nazi in the mouth."The armed leftist group Redneck Revolt posted on their website: "To the fascists and all who stand with them, we'll be seeing you in Virginia."
Beginning in the morning, ahead of the rally's official noon start time, "protesters and counterprotesters faced off, kicking, punching, hurling water bottles at and deploying chemical sprays against one another."
The AP reported that "people threw punches, screamed, set off smoke bombs, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. Some came prepared for a fight, with body armor and helmets. Others darted around, trying to avoid the chaos." Following the rally, four warrants for the arrest of white supremacist Christopher Cantwell were issued after Cantwell was charged by Virginia prosecutors with felonies related to "illegal use of gases, and injury by caustic agent or explosive." Separately, The Hill journalist Taylor Lorenz said that she was punched by counterprotestors during the violence; a man was arrested the same day and charged with assault and battery. An estimated 500 protesters and more than a thousand counterprotesters were on the site. At least 14 people were injured in street brawls.
At 11:00 a.m., the City of Charlottesville declared a state of emergency, citing an "imminent threat of civil disturbance, unrest, potential injury to persons, and destruction of public and personal property". One hour later, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, stating: "It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly-out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property. I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state."
At about 11:40 a.m., shortly before the rally was scheduled to begin, Virginia State Police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly via megaphones, and riot police cleared the scene. Following this, "a hard core of about 100 far-right protesters" moved to McIntire Park about 2 miles (3 km) away, where they gathered to hear speakers who had been scheduled for the "Unite the Right" event.
After the aborted rally, at around 1:45 p.m., a man drove his car toward a crowd of counterprotestors, hitting several and slamming into a stopped sedan, which hit a stopped minivan that was in front of it. The impact of the crash pushed the sedan and the minivan further into the crowd. One person was killed and 19 others were injured in what police have called a deliberate attack. The man then reversed the car through the crowd and fled the scene.
The ramming occurred at a pedestrian mall at Water and Fourth streets, about four blocks away from Emancipation Park ( Heather D. Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Charlottesville, was pronounced dead at the University of Virginia's University Hospital. Video footage recorded at the scene showed a gray 2010 Dodge Challenger accelerating towards crowds on a pedestrian mall, hitting people and sending them airborne, then reversing at high speed, hitting more people. The moment when the car was driven into the crowd was captured on video by bystanders and in aerial video footage taken by a drone. A photographer present at the scene said the car "plowed into a sedan and then into a minivan. Bodies flew. People were terrified and screaming." Bystanders said it was "definitely a violent attack", according to The Guardian. Of the 19 injured survivors, the University of Virginia Medical Center reported that five were initially in critical condition.).
By the afternoon of August 14, ten patients had been discharged from the hospital, and the nine remaining patients were in good condition.
Shortly after the collision, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Ohio who reportedly had expressed sympathy for Nazi Germany during his time as a student at Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky, was arrested. He was charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and failure to stop following an accident resulting in death and held without bail. On August 18, Fields was charged with three counts of aggravated malicious wounding and two additional counts of malicious wounding.
Fields was photographed taking part in the rally, holding a shield emblazoned with the logo of Vanguard America, a white supremacist organization. Vanguard America's leaders later stated he was not a member and that "The shields seen do not denote membership" as they were "freely handed out to anyone in attendance." On August 14, Fields was again denied bail. He is being held at the Albermarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail.
National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and several U.S. senators described the alleged ramming as an act of domestic terrorism, as did various commentators. Late on the night of August 12, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the U.S. Department of Justice would open a civil rights investigation into the incident; federal investigators are investigating whether the suspect "crossed state lines with the intent to commit violence". Later, Sessions said the ramming meets the definition of 'domestic terrorism' and that it was "an unacceptable, evil attack."
Heyer's mother said she wanted Heather's name to become "a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion." Heyer's memorial service was held at Charlottesville's Paramount Theatre on August 16; Heyer's mother spoke to hundreds of mourners, asking them to honor Heyer by acting against injustice and turning "anger into righteous action."
Separate GoFundMe pages were set up for the Heyer family and for those injured in the crash; the latter was organized by the Anchorage co-chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America. The UVA Health Foundation created a fund for medical expenses of "patients at UVA Medical Center and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital who were injured and impacted by this unwanted violence in our community."
Two motorists injured in the vehicle incident have sued the organizers of the event and the driver.
At around 4:40 p.m. on August 12, a Bell 407 helicopter owned by the Virginia State Police crashed 7 miles (11 km) southwest of Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, killing two Virginia state troopers who were on board. Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates, 40, of Quinton, Virginia, were on the way to assist with security and public safety in the city. The crash is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and Virginia State Police.
In the aftermath of the rally and the car ramming, some criticized the police handling of the rally. Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, wrote that "The situation that occurred was preventable" and the ACLU's lawsuit, which resulted in a federal court granting an injunction allowing the rally to go forward at Emancipation Park, "did not cause it." Gastañaga wrote that: "The lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counterprotesters on the street was contributing to the potential of violence. [Police] did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an 'unlawful assembly' and clear the area."
On August 12, investigative news organization ProPublica published an article reporting that Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police "wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades" and allowed "white supremacists and counterprotesters to physically battle" without intervening. A. C. Thompson wrote that in "one of countless such confrontations," police watched passively as "an angry mob of white supremacists formed a battle line across from a group of counterprotesters, many of them older and gray-haired, who had gathered near a church parking lot. On command from their leader, the young men charged and pummeled their ideological foes with abandon. One woman was hurled to the pavement, and the blood from her bruised head was instantly visible." Many white supremacists came armed, wearing helmets and carrying "clubs, medieval-looking round wooden shields, and rectangular plexiglass shields." Some counterprotesters also brought sticks, helmets and shields to the rally.
Virginia officials defended the police actions. Governor Terry McAuliffe said police did a "magnificent job" and, "We were unfortunately sued by the ACLU, and the judge ruled against us. That rally should not have been in the middle of downtown: to disperse all those people from the park where they dispersed all over the city streets and it became a powder keg. We have to do a better job working with the judiciary. They need to listen to local city officials . ... I am angry that this was not moved to McIntire Park where the city of Charlottesville requested."
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said that while he had "regrets" about planning, police officers had attempted to separate protesters and counterprotesters but were unable to effectively do so, in part because "Unite the Right" participants had failed to follow a previously agreed-upon plan for entering Emancipation Park: "We had a plan to bring them in at the rear of the park. They had agreed to cooperate with the plan; unfortunately they did not follow the plan. They began entering at different locations in and around the park." Thomas also wrote: "They also chose to leave the park on a number of occasions, entering the area designated for counterprotesters, walking along the street and confronting counter-protestors." Thomas denied the implications by the Virginia ACLU that police were ordered not to intervene or make arrests, saying "There were no directives from me or any other commander to stand down or disengage" and that "there were a number of altercations throughout the area in which officers intervened."
On August 13, the day following the rally, many groups organized vigils and demonstrations in a number of cities across the country with a variety of goals, including showing support for those against white supremacy, pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments, and denouncing fascism and actions and statements by the president of the United States.
In Brooklyn, demonstrators at the "Peace and Sanity" rally heard addresses by Public Advocate Letitia James and City Comptroller Scott Stringer. In Los Angeles, hundreds gathered on the steps of City Hall to condemn white-nationalist violence and honor those killed.
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters marched around Trump Tower, with many shouting "Shame, shame, shame!" and "Lock Him Up!". In response, pro-Trump counterprotesters waved American flags and yelled "Make America White Again" at protesters. One man gave a Nazi salute to the passing presidential motorcade.
Confrontations at the park continued on Tuesday, August 15, with counterprotestors demanding that a North Carolina man in Confederate uniform holding a Confederate flag and semi-automatic rifle leave the park. When police asked him if he would like to leave, he said he would and was escorted to his vehicle.
On the afternoon of August 13, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler attempted to hold a press conference in front of Charlottesville City Hall, but was forced to abandon the conference after being attacked by an angry crowd. One man reportedly either punched or attempted to punch Kessler, and a woman tackled Kessler as he was trying to leave the scene. Police came to Kessler's aid and escorted him from the area. Hundreds of people shouted "shame" at Kessler and "say her name" (referring to Heather Heyer, the woman killed the day before). Before ending the short news conference Kessler stated “I disavow any political violence and what happened yesterday was tragic." He later posted videos online in which he blamed the city for the violence and death. One man was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly spitting on Kessler during the news conference.
Speaking in an interview on the day of the rally, David Duke called the protests "a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." Following President Trumps initial comments made three days after the rally, Duke reportedly tweeted, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa."
Domain registrar GoDaddy demanded that The Daily Stormer move its website's domain to another provider after editor Andrew Anglin described the car-ramming victim in derogatory terms. The Daily Stormer then moved to Google Domains on August 14. Google canceled the site's registration for violation of its terms of service just over 3 hours after The Daily Stormer registered for the service.
PayPal suspended accounts of the right-wing extremist groups run by several of the rally organizers for violating the website's terms of service, which forbid raising money for "activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance".
Hacktivist collective Anonymous shut down numerous websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups following the protests. Alt-right website Red Ice TV was also hacked. In a video statement, they claimed that their coverage and support of the rally was the cause of the cyberattack. A Discord server frequented by alt-right elements was also taken down.
Before the suspect in the vehicular ramming on August 12 was revealed, there was an online campaign to identify the driver of the car used, during which a group of users incorrectly identified Joel Vangheluwe as the driver. The car used had previously belonged to Vangheluwe's father, Jerome Vangheluwe, but the car was no longer in the family's possession. After far-right news website GotNews reported that Vangheluwe was the driver, the family received numerous death threats and were advised to flee their home by local police. The family has hired a lawyer and plans to sue GotNews and other publications that published the false accusations.
On Twitter, a group of users identified white nationalist or supremacist marchers from photographs, publicizing at least nine names and identities. After being identified as a demonstrator at the rally, one individual resigned from his job at a hot dog stand in Berkeley, California. There was at least one reported case of mistaken identity; a University of Arkansas engineering professor received threatening messages from Twitter users who mistook him for a similar-looking man at the rally who wore an "Arkansas Engineering" T-shirt.
A short film produced by the United States War Department in 1943 entitled Don't Be a Sucker!, which contains anti-racist and anti-fascist themes, "found a new audience" and became a viral online video.
A logo by artist Mike Mitchell, featuring the number 45 (referring to Trump being the 45th President of the United States) rendered like a Nazi swastika behind the No symbol, took off after the Charlottesville riots, used by anti-Trump activists on social media and at protests calling for his removal. The logo, which was originally created that February, was brought to attention after Keith Olbermann retweeted Mitchell's original post.
In an address later in the day following the rally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, flanked by Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer, and Charlottesville's police chief, directly addressed the rally participants: "I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple. Go home ... You are not wanted in this great commonwealth." Signer said he was disgusted that white supremacists came to his town and he faulted President Donald Trump for inflaming racial tensions during his 2016 campaign, stating: "I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president."
University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry J. Sabato, who lives on the university grounds and saw the march on August 11, said that the weekend was among the university's darkest days, stating: "I hope people will put it into context and understand that we had no control over the individuals organizing it, nor the people who showed up. What we can control is our personal and institutional reaction to it. What I saw was pure evil."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the violence "horrifying" and "evil" and said: "It is racist, far-right violence and clear, forceful action must be taken against it, regardless of where in the world it happens." German Justice Minister Heiko Maas similarly condemned the violence, antisemitism, and racism of the neo-Nazis at the rally.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in his interview with Robert Kuttner, called the far-right as "irrelevant" after Kuttner asked him about the "ugly white nationalism epitomized by the racist violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s reluctance to condemn it." He quoted Bannon as saying, "Ethno-nationalism – it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more … These guys are a collection of clowns."
On August 12, Trump spoke on camera from his vacation home in New Jersey, saying "We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let's come together as one!" He said, "we condem in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." He added, "What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order."
A spokesperson for Trump later released an addendum to his remarks, stating, "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, KKK Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together." (The statement was re-released after an initial draft released to media outlets such as CNN [on which the typo was noted by Brian Stelter, media columnist and host of Reliable Sources] misspelled "neo-nazi" as "nephew-nazi".)
Whereas members of both political parties condemned the hatred and violence of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists, The New York Times noted that Trump "was the only national political figure to spread blame for the 'hatred, bigotry and violence' that resulted in the death of one person to 'many sides'". The decision was reported to have come from White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
The Congressional Black Caucus decried what it saw as Trump's false equivalency and dog-whistle politics, saying "White supremacy is to blame." Republican U.S. Representative Justin Amash and Senators Cory Gardner, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, and Marco Rubio all called upon Trump to specifically condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis; in a tweet that was retweeted by Flake, Gardner said: "Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism." Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said: "The violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of 'many sides.' It is racists and white supremacists." Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), whose brother was killed in action in Europe during World War II, tweeted, "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) called it "domestic terrorism" in a tweet, and a few hours later Republican senator Ted Cruz wrote on Facebook, "The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate ... [H]aving watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism."
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke responded by saying that Trump should "take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists". Other white supremacists and neo-Nazis did not object to Trump's remarks. Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin said "Trump did the opposite of cuck. He refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room."
The NAACP released a statement saying that while they "acknowledge and appreciate President Trump's disavowment of the hatred which has resulted in a loss of life today", they call on Trump "to take the tangible step to remove Steve Bannon – a well-known white supremacist leader – from his team of advisers". The statement further describes Bannon as a "symbol of white nationalism" who "energizes that sentiment" through his current position within the White House.
Political scientist Larry Sabato, playwright Beau Willimon, conservative journalist David A. French, Democratic U.S. Representative Ted Lieu and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also called for Bannon's firing. Two former federal government lawyers, Vanita Gupta and Richard Painter, who worked in the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively, called for both Bannon and Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka to be fired.
Bannon was fired on August 18, on the heels of an American Prospect interview, in which he mockingly downplayed Trump's threats of military action on North Korea, and put down his administration colleagues and the far-right, which White House aides felt would likely provoke Trump; two unnamed administration officials claimed that Trump had informed senior aides of his decision to remove Bannon that day, while a personal colleague of Bannon's claimed that Bannon submitted his resignation on August 7, with the announcement (which was to have occurred earlier that week) being delayed in the wake of the Charlottesville rally.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus and U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) called on Trump to fire Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller in addition to Bannon and Gorka, because of Miller's alleged white nationalist ties.
On August 14, from the White House, President Trump said:
To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered. [...] Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
Richard B. Spencer dismissed Trump's second statement as "hollow" and he also said that he believed that Trump had not denounced either the alt-right movement or white nationalism. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott (one of three African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate, and the only Republican among the three), also said the second statement came too late; The Los Angeles Times's editorial board wrote that "Trump's first response to Charlottesville was tepid and mealy mouthed. His second was too late."
NAACP president Cornell William Brooks said Trump's second statement stuck to a "rhetorical minimum" of a condemnation, and "gave the impression that the President was trying to have his hate cake and eat it too".
Trump later tweeted "Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!"
On August 15, Trump appeared before the media from his home at Trump Tower in New York City, to give prepared remarks about the state of the U.S. infrastructure and other economic issues. After reading his prepared statement, Trump took question from the media who asked questions mostly about the Charlottesville events. Trump defended his August 12 statement and repeated his claim that there was "blame on both sides." He also defended White House advisor Steve Bannon, and accused the media of unfair treatment of the rally′s participants. Trump said: "Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch." Trump said that the push to remove Confederate statues was an attempt to ″change history″. Trump also said that there were "very fine people on both sides". Trump criticized what he called the "very, very violent ... alt-left". and falsely claimed that counter-demonstrators lacked a permit.
In an interview published the next day, Bannon said the press conference was as a "defining moment" and that Trump chose to jettison the "globalists" and align himself with "his people. He said he was "proud of how [Trump] stood up to the braying mob of reporters."
According to Princeton University historian Kevin M. Kruse, there is a historical "false equivalency" precedent to blaming "both sides" in disputes over race relations. Kruse notes that segregationist politicians often equated white supremacists with the civil rights movement, condemning both the KKK and the NAACP. Various historians also questioned Trump's suggestion that the individuals calling for the removal of Confederate monuments would next demand the removal of figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed and others noted that Washington and Jefferson were imperfect men who are notable for creating the United States, whereas the sole historical significance of Confederate figures such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis is that they went to war against the United States to defend "the right of people to own other people."
Other historians noted that some wanted the Confederate monuments moved to museums where the monuments could be appropriately contextualized. Douglas A. Blackmon, senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs and author of a book on slavery and its aftermath in the U.S. told The Washington Post: "Trump either does not understand the history of the Confederacy or he's sympathetic to white nationalist views. ... [T]hese statues are offensive to millions of citizens that he governs. … When you reach a point that there are hate groups that engage in terrorist attacks, that these statues are being appropriated and used in [that] way … simply take [them] down."
Carol Swain, a former political science professor at Vanderbilt University, presented an opposing viewpoint: "Just coming out and denouncing white supremacy, and painting everyone with the same broad brush, does not solve the problem. There are black nationalists, there are white nationalists, there are Hispanic nationalists, and so we can’t say it’s just one group. So the president was correct when he said that there were many forces involved. Had the counter-protesters not been there, maybe the entire rally would have ended differently.
More than 60 Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate condemned Trump's remarks. Among those were Senators Bernie Sanders, John McCain, Tim Scott, Susan Collins, Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill, Dean Heller and Tammy Duckworth, and House members Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, Don Beyer, Barbara Comstock, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Will Hurd and Gerry Connolly, as well as Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "The president's continued talk of blame 'on many sides' ignores the abhorrent evil of white supremacism..." Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stated, "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."
Former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush stated that, "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."
On August 16, Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington State and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey unveiled a resolution that the three House Democrats co-authored, which would censure Trump for his "inadequate response to the violence", his "failure to immediately and specifically name and condemn the white supremacist groups responsible for actions of domestic terrorism," and for employing chief strategist Steve Bannon and national security aide Sebastian Gorka despite their “ties to white supremacist movements.”
Criticism of the comments also extended to the corporate world; among others, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch said in a email to friends that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, "[W]hat we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the president of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people. These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation — a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals" (Murdoch also pledged a $1 million donation to the Anti-Defamation League, urging his friends to also make contributions).
Additional controversy resulted from a Facebook post by Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal in which she commented, "I hope Trump is assassinated!," in response to the president's comments. In apologizing for the remark, Chapple-Nadal said to The Kansas City Star that she posted the comment in frustration of the "trauma and despair" of Trump's statements about the Charlottesville rally.
The post, which she deleted shortly after posting it but not before it was circulated online, led several state and national politicians, including U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and House Representative Lacy Clay, to call for her resignation; State Rep. Joshua Peters also submitted a letter to State Senate President pro tempore Tom Dempsey (chairman of the Missouri Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee) requesting that a special committee consider Chappelle-Nadal's "censure or removal" from office.
The fallout from the third statement also led to renewed calls for Trump to resign or be removed from office through either impeachment or through invocation of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. In an August 15 Twitter post, Democratic House Representative Jackie Speier of California suggested that the never-before-used article of the 25th Amendment (which allows the vice president and either a majority of the cabinet or another body such as Congress to declare that a president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office) be invoked to remove Trump. Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee announced on August 17, that he would introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump for his remarks in the press conference, stating that Trump had “failed the presidential test of moral leadership.” Arnold Schwarzenegger made an online video criticizing Trump's statement and presented a speech condemning the racists and stating Trump should've said something like that.
In an August 18 interview with ABC's Good Morning America, Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, stated that she has not "and now[..] will not" meet with President Trump after hearing about his statement. Bro said, "I'm not talking to the president now. I'm sorry, after what he said about my child. It's not that I saw somebody else's tweets about him. I saw an actual clip of him at a press conference equating the protesters, like Ms. Heyer, with the KKK and the white supremacists."
The fallout from this statement also led to renewed calls for Trump's removal from the WWE Hall of Fame. Additionally, a petition to strip Trump of an honorary law degree from Lehigh University by a recent graduate went viral following his comments, gaining over 25,000 signatures. Trump was previously stripped of an honorary degree from Scotland's Robert Gordon University in 2015. If he loses his degree from Lehigh, Trump will only have three honorary degrees remaining; two from Liberty University and one from Wagner College. A number of alumni of Liberty University announced their intentions to return their diplomas to the university in response to university president Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s continued support of Trump.
In the days following Trump's August 15 statement, the magazines The Economist, The New Yorker, and Der Spiegel all tweeted cover art for their upcoming issues, depicting Trump wearing or interacting with a KKK hood.
Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, resigned from the President's American Manufacturing Council on August 14, in reaction to the President's response to the rally. Trump quickly responded by attacking Frazier on Twitter. Frazier received widespread support from major figures in politics, media and business, and commentator Keith Boykin noted that "It took Trump 54 minutes to condemn ... Frazier" but "two days of issuing equivocal statements" before denouncing the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank and Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich also resigned from the council that same day, followed by the resignations of AFL–CIO president Richard Trumka, economist and former AFL–CIO deputy chief of staff Thea Lee, and Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul on August 15. The following morning, two more CEOs—Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Inge Thulin of 3M—announced that they would resign from American Manufacturing Council. Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon also directly criticized Trump's leadership, saying Trump "missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together."
On August 16, after the members of the advisory councils moved to disband, Trump dissolved both councils. Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Anat R. Admati said that Trump's equivocations on white nationalist groups had "put them in a very difficult position" and caused critical damage to the president's relationship with corporate leaders.
On August 18, 16 of the 17 members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in protest of Trump's response to the rally. The resigning members stated in a letter to the President, "Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville." Representatives for the sole remaining member, film director George C. Wolfe, stated that he, too, would be resigning and would add his name to the letter. The White House responded with a statement reading in part, "Earlier this month it was decided that President Trump will not renew the Executive Order for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), which expires later this year."
Several conservative commentators have claimed that Trump was being unjustly criticized by the media and left-wing political figures for him blaming both sides. Although still condemning the alt-right, critics stated that the media was downplaying the role of radical left wing groups like Antifa in the rally. Jonah Goldberg wrote that the presence of the alt-right did not excuse Antifa's from its policies that "oppose free speech, celebrate violence, despise dissent and have little use for anything else in the American political tradition."
Commentators, such as Paul Waldman and Peter Beinart, criticized this argument as an ineffective tactic to defend Trump and stated that none of the violence from the counter-protesters justified any moral equivalency between the two sides at the rally.
A Washington Post/ABC News national poll of American adults taken in the aftermath of the rally showed that 56% disapproved of Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, while only 28% approved. The same survey showed that 83% of Americans said that holding neo-Nazi views is unacceptable, while 9% said such views were acceptable.
An Marist Poll of American adults showed that 52% believed that Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville was "not strong enough." The same poll showed that 73% of Americans said they disagreed with the beliefs of white nationalists, with 4% saying they agreed, 7% having no opinion, and 15% unsure. The poll also showed that 67% believed that the fatal crash should be "investigated as an act of domestic terrorism," while 21% said it should not, and 12% were unsure.
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Olav Fykse Tveit, stated that "Terror and violence against peaceful people seeking justice in Charlottesville must be condemned by all...We are proud of moral leadership by clergy and lay people standing against this promotion of racism and white supremacy."
The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Orthodox Church in America, all of which are members of the World Council of Churches, each individually condemned the Unite the Right rally and the racist ideology behind it, as did The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church. The Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Union for Reform Judaism—representing American Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, respectively—all strongly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville.
The violence in Charlottesville accelerated the removal of public Confederate statues from many U.S. cities. About twenty such monuments were removed. In Baltimore, the city's four Confederate statues were removed on the night of August 15–16; Mayor Catherine Pugh said that she had ordered the overnight removals to preserve public safety. In Durham, North Carolina, a group toppled a statue outside the Old Durham County Courthouse; four activists were arrested in connection with the toppling. Three Confederate statutes were also removed from the University of Texas at Austin in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence.
In Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray asked the city council to approve the relocation of two statues from a courthouse. Proposals to relocate Confederate memorials were also made in Jacksonville, Florida and Memphis, Tennessee, among many other places.
A plaque in Montreal that was installed in a Hudson's Bay Company store commemorating Jefferson Davis's brief stay in the city by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1957 was removed following the rally, after many citizens complained.
In the online rush to name white nationalists in Charlottesville, some mistakes were made
"Don't Be A Sucker" is an anti-discrimination film which was produced during World War II by the Army Signal Corps for use with the armed forces. After the war, a shortened version of the film was widely shown both commercially and under educational auspices. In 1947, the Department of Scientific Research of the American Jewish Committee undertook to study the impact of the film. (The data were collected with the cooperation of the Institute of Social Research.)(PDF)
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