On Saturday, August 12, Charlottesville, Va. saw what’s been dubbed by experts as the “largest hate gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
In the aftermath of an uprising that left one person dead and dozens injured as a direct result of the demonstrations, not to mention two officers killed in a helicopter crash, some parties have made a point of looking back into Charlottesville’s history in search of triggers for this event.
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While the city doesn’t have a long history of white nationalist uprisings, the events of August 12 mark the third rally of this kind to take place in Charlottesville since city council announced the removal of the statue of Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee from Emancipation park in May.
Confederate statues and monuments are currently being removed in many cities in the United States, an action that’s been met with mixed reactions at every turn.
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One expert from the Southern Poverty Law centre, Heidi Beirich, told CNN that white nationalists are likely drawn to Charlottesville because past rallies have been so successful.
“They love what they consider to be a powerful image. A lot of people pointed out that it looked like Klan harassing black people. They didn’t have a problem with that… It’s partly because that went so well, that’s why they keep returning to Charlottesville,” Beirich said.
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However, many reports, including those from CNN and Newsweek, indicate that despite the several white supremacist uprisings that have taken place in Charlottesville over the past few months, the city remains largely left-wing. A New York Times poll reveals that 80 per cent of the city’s voters selected Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. federal election.
The organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, told CNN that the rally was motivated by “all the anti-white hatred that’s coming out of this city.”
“This entire community is a very far-left community that has absorbed these cultural Marxist principles advocated in college towns across the country, about blaming white people for everything,” Kessler told CNN the day before the rally.
However, as progressive as Charlottesville seems to have become, it’s just as historic.
“It starts with the geography and ties to the Civil War History,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer told USA TODAY . “When you look at Virginia where it was in the war, there are some native feelings on this there,” added Fisher, who also announced plans to remove a Confederate monument and faced minor protests and received emails, phone calls and social media campaigns from across the country.
Fischer goes on to tell USA TODAY that while Kentucky was officially neutral in the Civil War, Virginia’s ties to the Confederacy run deeper. The town of Charlottesville itself is littered with monuments, including in the University of Virginia campus. Newsweek also describes the town as one that actively embraces its history.
While the city doesn’t have a long history of white nationalist uprisings, a 2015 study by the Virginia Commonwealth University reveals that of the 2,000 or so Ku Klux Klan (KKK) local branches or “klaverns” established in the United States between 1915 and 1940, 132 were scattered around the state of Virginia. Furthermore,Virginia was the last state to desegregate schools in 1955 and resisted the ruling until 1958.
However, despite the original intent of the rally, left-wing counter-protesters came out in droves on August 12 to protest the far-right assembly.
In addition to the presence of Black Lives Matter, ‘Antifa’ (anti-fascist group) and faith leaders, many businesses closed their doors to the violence taking place in the streets, putting signs in their windows that read messages like “We value diversity, equality and love in this establishment and our community,” “MINORITY RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” and “DIVERSITY makes us STRONGER.”
Even though the events of August 12 are over, both groups intend to keep pushing.
White supremacist Richard Spencer, who attended the rally insists that “We are going to make Charlottesville the centre of the universe. We are going to come back here often. Your head’s going to spin how many times we’re going to be back down,” USA TODAY reports.
On the other side, many residents are fed up with persistent white nationalist rallies in their city and are petitioning the city to revoke their permit. While the rally has been condemned by multiple leaders, President Donald Trump came under fire for not condemning white nationalists in his statement.
Throughout all this, the potential removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee remains under litigation.