By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — On August 12, 2017 street clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia between white supremacists and counter protestors shocked the nation. Heather Heyer, a 32-year old civil rights activist, was run down and killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer.
Last Sunday, Susan Bro visited the intersection where her daughter died and nineteen others were injured one year ago. Police kept hundreds from walking down the street to Heyer’s makeshift memorial where her mother spoke to a small group who held hands in a circle around her.
“The world went crazy when Heather lost her life, and that’s not fair, because so many mothers lose their children every day, and we have to fix that. I don’t want other mothers to be in my spot. I don’t want other mothers to go through this,” Bro said.
Bro then placed flowers on the memorial for her daughter as she thanked the two state troopers who also died that day in a helicopter crash.
Afraid rioting would break out, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville and Northern Virginia and he put the National Guard on alert.
People in Charlottesville who gathered to honor the memory of Heyer were upset with the heavy police presence and tension mounted between the police and the demonstrators as they marched towards downtown. Four people were arrested but the march was mostly peaceful and authorities took down the cordon around downtown Charlottesville several hours early.
There was no rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville because the organizer of last year’s disastrous Unite Right rally couldn’t get a permit, so instead Jason Kessler organized one in Washington DC’s Lafayette Park. The police presence in Washington was heavy with members of the Secret Service, the National Park Police, and DC police out in force.
Perhaps 25 neo-Nazis got off at the Foggy Bottom subway station and were escorted to Lafayette Park. They were outnumbered by thousands who came out Sunday to oppose them. There were many more police and reporters than white nationalists, who gave a few speeches and TV interviews. It started to rain about 5 PM; the rally was cut short; and the white nationalists dispersed. The Unite Right 2 rally quite literally fizzled out.
Kessler said the poor showing was because people who share his views were too afraid to come out in public. There were no swastikas, no weapons, no KKK trappings like last year when hundreds of Neo-nazis carried burning torches across the University of Virginia campus and surrounded a group of counter-protesters by a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The white nationalists had their moment in the national spotlight but lived to regret it. Leaders of Neo-nazi and Alt-right groups who joined Kessler last year avoided him like the plague this year. Many have lost their ability to raise funds because they have been banned from on-line pay sites. Some people have been “outed” as Neo-nazis and lost their jobs. Still others are being sued by people who were hurt in last year’s violence, and some are still facing criminal charges.
In its aftermath, the first Unite Right rally has had serious consequences for many who were involved and a lot of white nationalists blame Kessler. The result, at least for now, is that the public face of the ‘For Whites Only” movement in the U.S. has been fractured.
While the Unite Right 2 rally was a complete bust, President Trump openly supports their agenda and his administration is clearly advancing it. Trump’s divisive rhetoric and discriminatory policies have provided cover for racist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Semitic people who are coming out of the shadows to commit more hate crimes.
The New York Times reported that more than one thousand hate crimes were reported in the ten largest American cites in 2017, the highest figure in ten years.
According to Eric Ward, Executive Director of Western States Center (WSC) in Portland, Oregon, we are at a strange and crucial historical moment. WSC works to strengthen inclusive democracy by developing community leaders and registering voters.
“We should not try and measure the strength of the white nationalist movement based off the event in DC. It has to be held in context. At the end of the day, when we at look at both boots on the street and the ballot that happen in the election, the white nationalist movement continues to grow and we ignore it at our own peril,” Ward said.