The University of Virginia is once again the focal point of the national discussion surrounding race and the alt-right.
On Saturday, August 12, however, events escalated far beyond a small band of easily outnumbered white supremacists. This event became one of the largest white supremacy rallies in the last decade.
The amount of controversy and rightful denunciation of the event would have been large if the white nationalists had made the journey to Charlottesville, made their point, and then gone home; that was not the case. Several protestors showed up bearing lit torches, weapons, shields, and spears. Obscenities and racial slurs were shouted toward minorities and counter protestors alike.
The event itself would have been vile if it had stopped at racial slurs and weaponized shouting. It did not stop there. Instead, the country is left with a putrid taste in its mouth and the streets of Charlottesville have become bloodstained.
Eyewitness Pam Clark, mother of UVa-Wise alumna Carlie Clark, witnessed the protests and the violence that followed. Arriving at the protest, Pam saw hundreds of protestors on both sides.
“I saw many carrying assault rifles and side arms,” Clark said. “The very first thing I noticed was a helicopter hovering overhead, where it remained all day.” She went on to describe the chants made by the white nationalists, including the most frequently used “we will not be replaced.”
Clark was there when a car plowed into a group of counter protesters, leaving nineteen injured and Heather Heyer dead.
“There were people all around but everyone was scared. I was scared,” Clark said. “I got out from in front of the car and pulled others out of the way.” She went on to describe the experience as terrifying and “the worst thing I have ever seen.”
President Donald Trump also tweeted a statement on the events in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, stating, “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.”
This statement shows the lack of understanding for the plight of the oppressed and disenfranchised.
The president of the United States made a public statement disavowing the “bigotry and hate, on many sides.” However, there is only one side. The hate and vitriol is only coming from the alt-right and white nationalists. To compare the two sides is a gross simplification of the events in Charlottesville and the racial tension that the country is experiencing in general.
The tragic events in Charlottesville help highlight the fallacy of a peaceful protest led by white nationalists. Those on the side of the protestors and those who seem to be attempting to find a place in the middle are perpetuating the idea that both sides should be looked at equally, no matter what the issue is, because they both have a constitutional right to assemble.
This protest could not have ended peacefully because white supremacy is inherently violent. The pistols that hung from their belts and the assault rifles slung around their shoulders only succeeded in creating a physical manifestation of the violence that came from the ideas of early twentieth century racists to the unfiltered crevices of Reddit.
By attempting to find a place in the middle of this debate, many individuals – including the President – are failing those who constantly bear the strain of prejudice.
Complacency for injustice easily evolves into injustice itself.