The “Unite the Right” demonstration held in Charlottesville Virginia on the 12th of August was meant to be a turning point for the far right in the US. Using the excuse of the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from Emancipation Park the far right organised a protest on Friday night at the University campus which was dispersed by police. A scheduled demonstration with the hope of terrorising a town for having the nerve to eliminate a symbol of the Confederacy and in their view an important symbol of “white history” was set for Saturday.
On Saturday, the demonstration composed mainly of white men (there were white women present as well) and carrying TIKI torches (what is it about fascists and torches?), giving Nazi salutes, some wearing helmets and carrying shields, many wearing swastikas, others wearing Ku Klux Klan (KKK) identification, others dressed (bizarrely) in Trump’s golfing uniform of beige chinos and white polo shirts with some wearing Trump’s “America First” slogan baseball caps, this rally was a coming together of the far right including Neo-Nazis, KKK members, Alt-Right, armed members of militias, white supremacists and white nationalists from across the US. Chanting racist, antisemitic and anti-immigrant slogans, the sole purpose of this protest was to terrorise the local population and to demonstrate the strength of these fascist organisations and to normalise their politics.
A counter-demonstration met them, composed of members of the hard left, religious leaders who were doing a silent protest, anti-racist and anti-fascist (Antifa) activists. Cornel West and the Reverend Traci Blackmon actually thanked Antifa as their group of 20 people were rescued by Antifa activists as the police had pulled back forces for the demonstration. It was a violent encounter (15 injured). A young Neo-Nazi, James Alex Fields Jr, drove his car deliberately into a group of counter-protesters (yes, license plate was correct and captured by people present at the clash) killing Heather Heyer and wounding 26 other counter-protesters.
Initially charged with criminal homicide, Fields Jr. is now facing second degree murder charges and charges for malicious wounding. Some non-participants of the protest are suing the leadership of the participating organisations and James Alex Fields Jr. for $3m for assault and battery, civil conspiracy and negligence. Money is being raised to cover the medical costs of victims of assaults by fascists. An interview with Deandre Harris beaten with poles by fascists near the Police Station, describes the police standing by and not helping him, and his rescue by friends; his recovery from this trauma will not be easy. Even more, the American Civil Liberties Union has confirmed that the Charlottesville police were only told to break up the protest on Friday night, on Saturday, they were told to stand down until given permission to move.
The impact of Charlottesville on the far right
The impunity of the far right was so strong that they seem to have forgotten why members of the KKK wore robes and hoods to hide their identities; names of those participating in the far right protest have been matched to their photos and they have been outed on Facebook and twitter (@YesYoureRacist) and some have been sacked from their jobs. A white nationalist studying at the University of Nevada, Reno regrets not covering his face and all the attention he is getting and denies he is not the angry racist in his picture that has gone viral. Peter Teftt a neo-Nazi from North Dakota whose photo was taken at the Charlottesville protest has been disowned by his family. GoDaddy notified the neo-Nazi “Daily Stormer” that they were no longer welcome and gave them 24 hours to move to another provider.
If their stated goal was to save a statue of a symbol of “White History” this has backfired badly. In response to what happened at Charlottesville, statues dedicated to the Confederacy are being removed. A memorial statue for the “boys who wore grey” was taken down by 3 leftists (Workers World) in Durham, North Carolina and they were then arrested for property damage (clearly property damage is much more important than the feelings of people of colour that had to see that statue). The mayor of Lexington Kentucky is removing all Confederate statues in the city because of Charlottesville, Baltimore Maryland city leaders vowed to remove all Confederate statues in the city and they were removed at night on the 16th of August, Gainesville Florida has relocated a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers known as “Old Joe” from downtown Gainesville in front of the Alachua County Administrative Building to a cemetery. Initiatives for the removal of monuments to the confederacy have been proposed in Dallas, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida. Efforts by civil rights groups around removal of statues commemorating the Confederacy gained momentum following the murders at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof. Already 60 statues commemorating the confederacy have already been removed (or renamed) since 2015. What happened at Charlottesville VA is already leading to a long-overdue removal of statues commemorating the Confederacy, those that fought for it during the US Civil War and leaders of the Confederacy.
A wake-up call for Americans?
The danger of the rise of the far right in the US has been revealed. In fact, they have demonstrated exactly what they believe in and it has frightened many Americans. However, while the far right has been supporting Trump, there are those that are supporting him or whom have voted for him that are not fascists, members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists (those are the vast majority of his supporters). This may be a wake-up call; they would not want to be associated with this ilk for obvious reasons like seeing a swastika on the arm of a fellow Trump supporter.
Trump’s initial refusal to condemn the neo-Nazis, fascists and white supremacists raised eyebrows; his insistence that there was violence on many sides (although only one side killed someone) rather than place responsibility on the far right told us quite clearly that he didn’t want to alienate his far right supporters. His statement was so weak that David Duke, a former leader of the KKK and other far right groups are thanking Trump for standing with them. Duke went as far to say that the far right is fulling Trump’s promises.
It took Trump 2 days to actually condemn the neo-Nazis and the KKK. His most recent comments on the 15th of August on what happened in Charlottesville have drawn criticism across mainstream media and politicians in the US. Once again he argued for moral equivalence and responsibility between fascist protestors and anti-racist and anti-fascist counter-protesters whom he called “Alt-Left.” His insistence that not all protesters were neo-Nazis and hence were not all racist irrespective of what they were chanting, his defence of Unite the Right organisers and then he attempted to apportion blame on both sides equally for the violence. It appears that the relationship between Trump and his far right supporters is being consolidated. We need to watch if this strengthens Trump and the far right in the future, but at the moment, the mainstream right in the Republican Party (if you can call them mainstream) has been withdrawing support in an effort to pretend that they share no culpability for rising racism, misogyny, xenophobia and Islamophobia. If one didn’t know better you would never guess that years of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and Islamophobia had preceded Trump’s election. But one thing is using divide and rule, another thing is neo-Nazis, fascists, the KKK, and white supremacists marching boldly into the streets of Charlottesville giving Nazi salutes and wearing swastikas. When your actions and words come back to bite you in the arse so badly, running for cover makes a lot of sense. After all, they are not Nazis … just racists, misogynists and xenophobes; the use of the swastika by many of the far right protesters in Charlottesville seems to have struck a nerve.
Right-wing Republicans like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan (R-Speaker of the House), Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) have condemned white supremacy and have placed the blame for the violence on the far right and argued that there is no moral equivalency between fascists and anti-fascists. Calling the Nazis, KKK, and white supremacists “repulsive and evil” and arguing that it is the responsibility of all of us to speak out, Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that Charlottesville was an act of domestic terrorism and that Fields Jr should be prosecuted as a domestic terrorist. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that his brother didn’t die fighting Hitler to let the Nazis go unchallenged today. Even Mitch McConnell (R-Senate Majority leader) — whose wife Elaine Chao (the Transportation Secretary) was standing next to Trump at the press conference on Charlottesville on the 15th — came out and said there are no good Nazis. Today, two former Republican presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush published a joint statement calling on America to reject “racial bigotry, antisemitism, and hatred in all forms.” Trump’s comments were so disturbing that even PM Theresa May came off the fence and joined with the rest of political leaders in Britain condemning Trump’s comments but without naming him, saying she “sees no equivalence between those with fascist views and those that condemn them.” Trump takes criticism extremely personally, a critical comment from “his Margaret Thatcher” could endanger the “really big, really powerful” trade deal between the US and Britain that Trump promised.
Trump’s statements have provoked criticism throughout the political mainstream and in the mainstream media in the US. Two White House advisory councils set up by Trump (The Strategic and Policy Forum and the White House Manufacturing Jobs Initiative) have been dissolved as corporate leaders began to quit following his initial statement on Charlottesville; these include the CEOs of Merck Pharmaceuticals, Intel, JP Morgan, General Electric, and Campbell Soup. Happily, the Head of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka also stepped down; the question of why he was there in the first place is another question altogether. Trump being Trump, he only called out only one of these CEOs by name, Ken Frazier of Merck Pharmaceuticals the only black person on these boards; he threw in a populist meme in his tweet as well: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Irrespective of Trump’s bluster that he could replace them easily, he dissolved both councils on August 16th.
Needless to say, the Liberals in the US are horrified; but the presentation of the right of Nazis and white supremacists to demonstrate as a Freedom of Speech issue is clouding things and allowing them a way out. So while they can deplore neo-Nazis, they can also criticise the left for its violence and how we need to use non-violent means (they’ve done it before, they will do it again). The left has come to expect nothing from the Democratic Party, they are great at posturing, but political movements enter the Democratic Party to die a slow death. But how will other liberals and progressives move now; the question is whether they will sit on the fence or unite with the left. Will they actually recognise that the situation is so serious that simple legislative reform will be insufficient or will they continue to hide behind condemnation of the actions of the far right? This is not only a question being asked by the left, an opinion piece in the Washington Post by N.D.B. Connolly argued that liberalism cannot defeat white supremacy; that history showed that the time has come for direct action — market solutions and multiculturalism can be effective but it was the direct action of the civil rights movement which paved the way for the civil rights movement’s victories. As political polarisalisation becomes more and more apparent who will the stand alongside?
by Sarah Peterson