by Declan Murphy
[Author’s note: this article has undergone multiple rewrites in an effort to keep up with the President’s evolving racist rhetoric.]
American white supremacists have posed as all sorts of movements in the past year: ‘free speech’ activists, white identity politics (whatever that means), political ‘trolls’, and the euphemistic ‘alt-right’. But they are, and always have been, Nazis. At the very least, the tragedy in Charlottesville this weekend brings this into high relief. The Nazis have been unmasked.
The violence in Charlottesville began with a “Unite the Right” rally on Friday night, which gathered together to (among other things) protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from UVA’s campus. Bearing tiki torches and shouting obscene and twisted slogans—“white lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!”—the Nazis swarmed the city of Charlottesville the next day, to spew an agenda of hate.
Counter-protesters, including a group led by black activist Cornel West, also came to Charlottesville. Outraged by the presence of the so-called ‘alt-right’, these protesters arrived to put an end to the rally.
Tensions were high, as the groups shouted at each other and threw various objects. Then alt-right member James Alex Fields murdered one protester, Heather Heyer, and injured nineteen others. In a separate incident, the causes of which are less clear, two police officers lost their lives after their helicopter crash landed.
The violence in Charlottesville this weekend undermines the false narratives that the alt-right has propagated over the past year. Alt-right activists like Milo Yiannopoulos have insisted that it is the political left who are truly intolerant and/or violent. The violence committed by Fields and others proves this to be a fallacy. The alt-right has insisted that they are not Nazis. Their explicit racial rhetoric, including anti-Semitic chants, proves this too to be false. The alt-right has at times claimed it is for “equal rights”, relying on the logic of reverse racism and critiques of affirmative action as justification for white identity politics. But any movement that allies itself with David Duke, a grand Wizard of the KKK – and an attendee of this rally – must concede any claims of equal rights.
The President has condemned violence on “many sides”, a cowardly equivocation that many have interpreted as a failure to condemn the literal Nazis. But only one person died that day. Only one side was willing to charge a car, going 40 miles an hour, into a crowd of people with whom they disagreed. Only one side was populated by Nazis, many wielding assault weapons, at least one of whom was willing to kill.
To say that Donald Trump has not handled this well would be an understatement. Trump’s claim of violence on “many sides” is sickeningly ignorant. While others in the administration have been able to condemn the violence and name white supremacists explicitly, Trump has yet to do so. (Ivanka Trump said there was no place for “neo-Nazis” in the United States. Jeff Sessions called it an act of domestic terror. An unsigned White House press release explicitly named white supremacists among the perpetrators of violence, after near-universal protestations regarding the President’s equivocal remarks.)
What he has done is even more despicable. After talking about violence on “many sides”, he retreated from the world, even from his choice platform Twitter. One of his few tweets since then was not a correction or apology as many had hoped. Instead it was another childish outburst at Kenneth Frazier, a black CEO who left a Presidential advisory council’s after the administration’s inadequate response. When lives are at stake, Trump still cares more about the loyalty of those around him.
On Monday, the President tried damage control, to which I say: too little, too late. The President had the chance to condemn white supremacists on Saturday; in fact, reports indicate that many of his advisers encouraged him to do so. Instead, he buried the truth. Two days–and one temper tantrum–later, he tried to take the strong stance he should have had all along. Well, I’m sorry, but that just isn’t enough. Yes, Mr. President, racism is evil. But it was evil along.
Did someone have to explain that to you, or did that take you two days to figure out?
Evidently it wasn’t explained very well. On Tuesday, the President cycled back to his “both sides” rhetoric, calling out the fictional “alt-left” for its role in the violence. What’s happened since has been a whirlwind of both veiled and overt racism, a stunning defense of Confederate monuments, and attempts at deception.
President Trump wants you to believe that liberals are shutting down free speech and dishonoring the history of this nation. No, Mr. President. Liberals are shutting down hate speech and condemning the racist past of the American South. He wants you to think liberals are causing violence in the streets. Wrong again, Mr. President. In the streets, neo-Nazis are murdering protestors with cars. Beyond Charlottesville, violent hate crimes happen every day. White men aren’t being murdered for who they are; but people of color, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, Jews, and other marginalized groups are. You call that violence of “both sides”?
There aren’t “many sides” to this issue. There are Nazis on one side, and concerned Americans on the other. There is a murderer on one side, and a victim on the other. One side has David Duke, the aforementioned KKK Grand Wizard, and the other has Cornel West, a Harvard-educated scholar and activist.
One side is evil, and the other is not.