BY LISA KEEN, KEEN NEWS SERVICE
One of the loudest chants by white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday was “Fuck you, Faggots.” The driver of the car that plowed into counter-protesters appears to have associated himself with a right-wing group that believes LGBT people are “sexual deviants.” And a national leader for white supremacists at the rally is a man who two years ago barred anti-gay participants from his group events.
The Charlottesville rally by white supremacists gained widespread international attention Saturday when street fights broke out in the streets between the rally participants and a large group of counter-protesters, and one of rally participants drove his car at high speed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. Attention escalated dramatically after President Trump expressed his condemnation of the violence, but rather than take a stand against white supremacists, Trump blamed the bigotry on “many sides” and seemed to echo a claim by supremacists that they were just defending their “history” by rallying around a Confederate war general’s statue
The purported purpose of the “Unite the Right” rally, organized by a local alt-right blogger, Jason Kessler, was to demonstrate opposition to the city council’s decision to rename a local park, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and call it “Emancipation Park.” But the rally was also part of a resurgence of white supremacists in the southern states that has been growing for at least the past two years, and it drew participants -most of whom appeared to be young, white, males–from many other states.
A Friday night march by “Unite the Right” protesters included hundreds of people, mostly appearing to be white young adult males, carrying identical torches and marching to the campus of the University of Virginia. ]
By Saturday, an equally large counter-protest had gathered, and local police erected a temporary fence and police line to separate the two crowds. But for reasons not yet clear, the police left the scene at some point and the two groups began to clash verbally and then physically, with fistfights, spraying of paint and chemicals at each other, shoving, and hitting each other with sticks. Then suddenly, a car that was sitting two blocks away began to speed toward the counter-protest group at the end of a street and rammed into the crowd. The driver of the car then executed a speedy reverse back down the street, where he was eventually stopped and arrested.
One counter-protester, 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer, a resident of Charlottesville, was killed and 19 others were injured, said Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas at a press conference Saturday evening. More than a dozen people were also injured during the melee between the two groups.
Kessler disavowed the actions of the driver of the car, saying, “he did the wrong thing.” But a national white supremacist leader, Alexandria, Va., resident Richard Spencer, told reporters in Charlottesville that “Unite the Right” rallies would return to the University of Virgina town.
“We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe, said Spencer, according to USA Today. “We are going to come back here often.”
Spencer, an increasingly prominent national voice for alt-right efforts, reportedly barred anti-gay participants from an event by his group, the National Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., two years ago. According to a profile of Spencer in The Atlantic magazine in June, Spencer, University of Virginia alum, denied “widely whispered rumors” among his UVA classmates that he was gay.
Another national leader in the white supremacist movement, David Duke, a former national KKK leader, was in front of cameras during the weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally. He told reporters he and the rally participants represent 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. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Trump Generates More Heat
President Trump, late Saturday afternoon, took the occasion of a press conference regarding a veterans’ bill he was signing, to read from a statement about events in Charlottesville. According to a White House transcript, he said:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.
“It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play, or be with their parents, and have a good time.
“I just got off the phone with the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and we agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — really — and I say this so strongly — true affection for each other.
“Our country is doing very well in so many ways,” continued Trump, who then listed ways he believes the country is doing well. He then thanked various state and federal law enforcement officers then said, “Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country, where things like this can happen.
“My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other, and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.”
Many political commentators focused on what Trump did not say. He did not make any statement condemning the white supremacist base behind the Charlottesville attack.
Others criticized what he did say.
“Listen to that: ‘Cherish our nation’s history,’ in the context of Charlottesville,” said Republican commentator Roger Traynham, who was an advisor to former President George W. Bush. “To me…as an African American -not even as a Republican– but as an African American, to me, that is an homage or a nod to the alt-Right [and] racist supremacy.”
U.S. Senate Marco Rubio (R-FL) posted a statement on Twitter saying, “Very important for the nation to hear [the president] describe events in [Charlottesville] for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists.”
By Sunday, the White House issued a statement saying that, when Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides,” “Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
In the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, protesters carried signs that referred to the KKK, Confederate flags, Nazi flags, and many of the flags associated with extreme right-wing groups, such as the blue-and-white flags of “Identity Evropa.” an Oakdale, California-based group that recruits young white men to discuss the interests of white people. The flags of the latter use a triangle at the center of their flag.
In the counter-protester crowd, there was a sign saying “KKK = Homophobic Terrorism.”
The driver of the car that sped into the counter-protesters has been identified as a 20-year-old man, James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio. By Sunday evening, many news reports showed a photograph of a Unite the Right rally participant they identified as Fields. The man was standing alongside other white supremacists rally participants, holding a round black-and-white shield with a logo similar to one used by a right-wing group called Vanguard America.
The most recently posted article on the group’s website is “A Statistic on Homosexual Pathology.” The article calls LGBT people “degenerates” who “regularly commit a disproportionate amount of sexual crime,” and “deliberately prey upon children.”
Its membership page states, “No Homosexuals.” But Vanguard America posted a statement on Twitter Sunday, saying the driver was “in no way, a member” and that the shields “do not denote membership.”
National LGBT Response
National LGBT groups were quick to respond to the weekend’s conflicts in Charlottesville.
“Hate and bigotry must never be met with silence or half-hearted rebukes,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The horrific events unfolding in Charlottesville [Saturday] are a stark reminder that the racism and white supremacy that has been allowed to fester for generations has recently been emboldened by the policies and rhetoric of politicians like Donald Trump. There are no two sides. Donald Trump’s refusal to clearly condemn white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the ‘alt-right’ is a failure of leadership and once again proves he is unfit to serve. All national leaders, from the President and Vice President on down, must explicitly and unequivocally condemn this violent extremism.”
Lambda Legal Executive Director Rachel Tiven issued a statement saying the Unite the Right rally was a march “against the rest of the country: against the polyglot, racially and religiously diverse America that is real and the truth. And they are absolutely marching against LGBT people of all colors.”