Charlottesville violence runs much deeper
13 August 2017 world-news
It is about more than a statue.
The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, might have centred around the memorial of General Lee in the centre of this city, but the dynamic of the far-right’s protest runs much deeper.
The city fathers want to remove the general’s statue because of what it symbolises.
General Robert E. Lee was an iconic figure in the Confederate Army during the American civil war and led the fight for the preservation of slavery amongst other things.
Hence the city’s discomfort at a symbol that celebrates the values and beliefs of its past that, in the 21st century, it would rather forget.
People in Charlottesville have come to experience the growing assertiveness of the far-right in President Donald Trump’s United States. Ku Klux Klan members held a march here early last month prior to this weekend’s “Unite the Right” gathering.
Their police chief had been given the power to call a curfew and the city was already in a local state of emergency. Such was the violence that ensued this weekend, perpetrated by both sides in this demonstration and counter-demonstration and resulting in loss of life.
Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr was charged with second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run.
He had allegedly driven a car, at speed, towards a crowd of people who were on the streets protesting against the presence of the white nationalists.
Once the police had classed it as a deliberate act – and not before – it seemed fair and accurate to paraphrase the charge as “domestic terrorism”.
That was certainly the view of Republican senator Corey Gardner from Colorado. In a tweet aimed at President Trump, he wrote: “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
His sentiments were echoed by other Republicans. Senator John McCain issued a statement which did not point the finger directly at the President but said: “White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriots and the ideas that define us as a people and make our nation special.”
They were strong voices inside the President’s own party calling out the people who had arranged Saturday’s “Unite the Right” demo in Charlottesville. So why did the President not join them?
His Democrat opponents have long accused President Trump of turning a blind eye to bigotry within his white electoral support base for his own political benefit and that this, in turn, emboldens the hard right and creates a climate in which hatred thrives.
They point to people like David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who attended the Charlottesville rally and was quoted as saying: “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back.
“We are going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”
For the record, Donald Trump “disavowed” (denied any responsibility or support for) David Duke publicly in February last year.
Many of those who witnessed the violence in Charlottesville would challenge him to do so again – condemn the man and his philosophy.
At a small gathering at the University of Virginia organised by Black Lives Matter, Reneigh Jenkins told Sky News: “I do think this is a direct response to the lynch mob atmosphere that the president has whipped up along with his administration.
“He ran this campaign on white supremacy and xenophobic nationalism so of course these people will be running through the streets hitting protesters over the head with bats and ramming cars into them because they have been emboldened by this president.”