Some Background on Those Violent, White Supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ Actions in Charlottesville

By Akiba Solomon Aug 13, 2017

On Saturday (August 12), thousands of White supremacists, many armed, attended a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Organized by a self-described "White advocate" and University of Virginia alum Jason Kessler, the rally was slated to be in protest of the pending removal and sale of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in a park that was renamed Emancipation Park in June. Just last month, Charlottesville was the site of a Ku Klux Klan rally that ended with the deployment of police tear gas. In attendance at today’s action were a range of White activists who promote or participate in racist terrorism including Neo Nazis, White supremacist biker gangs, the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the neo-Confederate League of the South, Identity Evropa and various figures from the so-called alt-right.

While "Unite the Right" was permited by the city, a related action on Friday night was not. At that action, hundreds of White men and women carrying lit tiki-torches marched on the campus of the University of Virginia, yelling "You will not replace us!" "Jew will not replace us!" and "Blood and Soil," a slogan of Nazi Germany. The White supremacists surrounded the campus’ St. Paul’s Memorial Church as an opposing multifaith, multiracial prayer service let out and then violently clashed with a small group of student counter-protesters at the university’s rotunda.   

Saturday’s rally, scheduled to begin at noon, was declared unlawful before it started due to scuffles and screaming between the White nationalists and counter-protesters. Several contingents openly carried firearms, while others used their shields and flag poles as weapons. Protesters also sprayed one another with a chemical substance reported to be pepper spray.

While Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency early on, reports from people on the ground suggest that police were slow to react. One CNN anchor went as far as to claim that the police "were afraid to disarm people," a glaring contrast to the militarized police response we’ve seen to peaceful Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL protests.

This afternoon, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke said the march would "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." But it took several hours for prodigious tweeter President Donald Trump to post a statement—that did not explicitly name White supremacists: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”

After today’s "Unite the Right" action dispersed, a car in downtown Charlottesville rammed into a group of people, killing at least one and injuring 19. In a speech Trump gave after casualties were reported, the president said, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Critics said Trump was making a false equivalency between the mass of White nationalists assembled and people opposing them.

"We have been warning people for the last year about the rising White nationalist movement," Spencer Sunshine, a journalist and researcher of White supremacist organizing, wrote in an email to Colorlines. "This movement has always been involved in an incredible level of violence. The movement has recently made new allies and flexed its muscles to show its strength. We’ve been warning people that what happened in Charlottesville today is the inevitable result of this movement’s politics. People need to set their tactical differences aside and unite to contain this movement. White supremacy is murder."

With that context, here are some resources that explore the roots and symbols of today’s violent "Unite the Right" demonstration:

1. It’s Going Down, a "digital community center" that runs content from unidentified people in "anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements" has a field guide to the figures, groups and ideas that they say are behind "Unite the Right." Read the deeply triggering guide, published on August 4, with the knowledge that the site is not "a neutral and unbiased agency."

2. Hatewatch from The Southern Poverty Law Center has a list of some of the flags and symbols that White nationalists, neo Nazis and other White supremacists used at today’s "Unite the Right" rally. 

3.  Colorlines has been covering the growing Trump-era White nationalism since July 2016. Find our reporting, by Sunshine, under the White Nationalism tag.

4. NBC News producer Craig Stanley tweeted excellent on-the-ground video during today’s march.

5. These tweets summed up what many are calling the White terrorism of the past two days: