Charlottesville: Responding to Violence with Positive Action
August 15, 2017
US Senator Jeff Merkley & Tom Perriello / Slate & Josh Levin / Slate
Senator Merkley: "It is time that every American denounces racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and violence. We need to have some hard conversations with our family and friends of all political leanings about why the hateful ideology on display in Charlottesville takes root in America, and how we can do better."
Charlottesville: One Thing You Can Do
Senator Jeff Merkley
(August 14, 2017) -- On Saturday, a woman named Heather Heyer was murdered at a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Not in 1937 or 1957. In 2017.
It is time that every American denounces racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and violence. We need to have some hard conversations with our family and friends of all political leanings about why the hateful ideology on display in Charlottesville takes root in America, and how we can do better.
As Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, said: "We should call evil by its name. Their ideas are fueled by hate, and have no place in civil society."
As Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, said: "These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
There is no "many sides" equivalence, as our president suggested, when one side is advocating for hate speech, advocating separation and discrimination, and seeking to instill fear. In America, "We the People" are united as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
But it's not enough to call out overt racism -- racial slurs, burning crosses, and neo-Nazis. That's just the very low bar of basic human decency. We can't oppose intolerance and hate while promoting voter suppression laws and anti-immigration policies that target one particular religion, or gutting civil rights protections and denying the impact of racism in our country.
We each have a responsibility to fight against injustice and intolerance, and that starts by having some hones conversations about what equity and justice really mean.
Do not be silent. Forward this email to the people you love. Tell your friends and neighbors:
* I oppose the torch-bearers in Charlottesville. I do not condone their actions. I disagree that the racial and religious slurs they shouted are legitimate discourse. The violence that they inflicted on those around them must be challenged.
* Here in America, we are a melting pot of diversity. We are the land of Lady Liberty welcoming the tired, huddled masses. We are a people of many faiths, many tongues, and many colors, and we oppose blind and vile hatred directed at those who are simply different.
* Those are the freedoms this country was built upon, but have never been fully realized. I want to keep working to pursue that vision. Those torch-bearers do not represent me. We must be better than this.
We are diverse, we are unified, we are strong, and we are Americans.
There Is Only One Side
To the Story of Charlottesville
Tom Perriello / Slate & Climate Hawks
(August 14, 2017) -- "Heil Trump," the white supremacists chanted as they marched past me, turning my beloved hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, into a rallying point for fascists, white supremacists, and their preppy enablers in the so-called alt-right.
One side instigated the rally, dubbed it #UniteTheRight, and spent months escalating violent rhetoric. President Donald Trump blamed "many sides." They rallied to prevent the removal of a Confederate statue. Trump's nationally televised response -- "we must cherish our history" -- was heard less as a dog whistle than as a bullhorn.
Many of the racist ralliers intentionally invoked shocking images from our past, but if leaders, particularly on the right, do not quickly acknowledge the breadth and depth of this crisis, these new images may serve more as harbingers of our future.
While Charlottesville played host, most of the pro-hate participants I interviewed came from across the mid-Atlantic and even Midwest. The man suspected of being the driver that plowed through anti-racist protesters was identified as a 20-year-old from Ohio.
As for scope, while their numbers were only in the hundreds, a Republican candidate for Virginia governor this year who ran on a neo-Confederate platform and embraced these groups' calls to protect the monuments came within 1 percent of winning the nomination this summer.
While much can be debated about the event, a few items were very clear.
First, this was unequivocally about race, about white tribalism.
For the hundreds who rallied, many of them heavily armed, race was the defining issue. No one I talked to mentioned economic anxiety or trade policy. "You will not replace us" was the leading chant, and I was told multiple times that I was clearly a "Jew banker," "faggot," or "sellout to my people."
Their signs read "White Lives Matter" and said that Charlottesville's black vice-mayor "Wes Bellamy is a Nigger." I have met Trump voters who were not primarily motivated by race -- these were not them.
Second, these guys are enabled by Donald Trump and the politics of Steve Bannon.
From the "Heil Trump" chants to the MAGA hats, the participants were clear with me that Trump had made this "our time." After Trump tweeted that "We ALL must be united," former KKK grand wizard David Duke responded, "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists."
At this point, Trump appears more beholden to white supremacists than to Putin. Doubt it? Watch the sequence of events on Saturday, from Trump's relatively presidential tweet condemning the hate, to David Duke's overt challenge to Trump not to disown the white tribalists who elected him, to Trump's moral disaster of a press conference in which he refused to condemn or even name white supremacy or domestic terrorism and apparently ad-libbed the most cowardly act of moral relativism of the modern era.
Third, Saturday showed us a vision of a dystopian future that is the logical extension of our current gun laws.
Not just gun ownership but AR-15s. Not just concealed carry but open carry. And not just the right-to-open-carry even long guns but to dress in full military fatigues with accessories (earpieces, vests, insignias) to blur every line between legitimate law enforcement and a fully armed white nationalist militia.
I have spent time in multiple conflict zones and still would not have known at a quick glance if bullets started flying which heavily armed men in camouflage and flak jackets represented law and order and which were armed terrorists.
Donald Trump, who claims to be the hero of law enforcement, has issued no criticism of those who blur the line between public and private security forces, who blur the most sacred blue line between violence and force. Is there anything more vital of a commander-in-chief who claims to care about those who serve in uniform than to condemn those who fake the uniform?
Fourth, it is probably easiest to just start referring to this entire coalition as the modern KKK.
Yes, they are fascists and white supremacists, "alt-right" and actual KKK. Yes, they each had a distinct uniform, from the white polo–wearing preppy brigade to the cosplay crowd to the toy-soldier dress-up troops. But they are clearly working as a coordinated unit, just as the Klan did through various periods.
The working class generally wore the robes and committed the ugly crimes, while the leadership wore the robes of judges and badges of sheriffs that wielded the real power of ensuring white male supremacy. This network is trying to cross-brand, and the result is an integrated network of white supremacists that collectively constitute the modern Klan.
Finally, there will be a strong desire to avoid the proximate cause of this rally: how we remember the Civil War.
Many moderates on both sides find it distasteful or "agitating" to consider how we memorialize that history. As someone who has worked on transitional justice efforts in a dozen countries, I can tell you that civilized countries have always made deliberate decisions about how to tell their history, who to memorialize, and how that becomes more accurate and informed over time.
Do we honor history when we freeze in time a set of memorials largely born out of mythology, largely resurrected in the midst of desegregation (not the war), and largely based on an utterly debunked revisionist history of the Civil War? These critiques of renaming buildings and "protecting" statues are not historically accurate or intellectually honest. They are lazy attempts to avoid the difficult work of correcting the lingering effects of the Dunning School and the Lost Cause myth.
It is a failure to understand the new Jim Crow laws that result. It is rendering invisible even today that the majority of human beings in Charlottesville and Albemarle County at the time of the Civil War were black, and it was black Union fighters who were the first to enter Richmond.
What this three-month modern Klan campaign should teach those who passively support keeping these monuments is that they serve not as innocent icons of our past but political tools of hate and fear in our present.
Saturday could be the anomaly or become the norm. This could be coming to a town near you, or our future could be defined by the many solidarity vigils being organized around the country.
Our future will be determined by whether we speak honestly about the racial demagoguery of this White House, whether principled conservatives stop enabling the racist and authoritarian policies of the Trump administration, whether we restore the line between force and violence, and whether we have the moral and intellectual courage to engage honestly with our past.
Langston Hughes famously said,
"America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath --
I America will be."
Saturday's clash in Charlottesville may have lacked the poetry, but it offered the same prophetic challenge of those words. Previous generations sacrificed beyond measure to get us closer to that aspiration. Let's be perfectly clear that there is only one good way for this story to end, and it isn't with the the side of death or fear, of hate or of a nostalgia for a cult of racial injustice. It's the only story there is to tell: of the America that will be.
ACTION: I've called for the firing of the White House white supremacists Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. I hope you will add your name to this call. You can Sign Here.
Tom Perriello is a Charlottesville native and transitional justice expert who previously served as a congressman and peace negotiator. He recently ran for governor of Virginia as the first signatory of our No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and we endorsed him. He is currently CEO of WinVirginia, an effort to flip the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 and reduce the impact of money in American politics.
The Real Meaning of "On Many Sides"
In his speech on Charlottesville, Donald Trump
told the nation exactly what he stands for
Josh Levin / Slate
(August 12, 2017) -- On Saturday afternoon, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and open-carrying, camo-wearing militia members combined forces at a Charlottesville, Virginia, rally to "Unite the Right." This congregation of white people who love the president of the United States and hate racial, ethnic, and religious minorities chanted "blood and soil" and extended their arms in stiff salutes.
The rally culminated in the death of at least one person when the driver of a gray Dodge Challenger plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters, seemingly with the intent to maim and injure.
On Nov. 19, 1863, as the Union and Confederate armies waged a war to determine whether black people were property, President Abraham Lincoln stood up at the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and articulated his vision of what the United States should be. He called for a promise that "these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."
On Aug. 12, 2017, Donald Trump stood up at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and All Lives Matter'd a Nazi rally. "We're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia," Trump said. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides."
He then said those three words again -- "On many sides" -- as if to emphasize that this throwaway phrase was in fact the only bit of his short speech that he truly believed in. He did not talk about white supremacy, and he did not note the prevalence of racist chants.
The troubles in Charlottesville, the president said, were everyone's fault. Or, to put it another way, nobody in particular was more responsible than anyone else for what happened in Virginia this weekend. Not the president. Not the party that enabled him. Not even those who idolize Adolf Hitler.
Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacist violence, coming on the heels of his silence in the aftermath of last week's mosque bombing in Minnesota, is just the latest affirmation of his fundamental immorality.
The president's racist, anti-Semitic, Muslim-hating acolytes heard the words Trump didn't say on Saturday. They know they have an ally in the White House, a man who will abet anyone who abets his own hold on power.
As a candidate for office and now as president, Trump has made it very clear who his friends are. When Joe Scarborough said in 2015 that Vladimir Putin "kills journalists that don't agree with him," Trump answered that "our country does plenty of killing, too."
Call it moral relativism or whataboutism or false equivalence. So long as an atrocity is perpetrated by someone who's said nice things about Donald Trump, it's not really an atrocity.
"It's been going on for a long time in our country," Trump said on Saturday, speaking of the "hatred, bigotry, and violence" on display in Charlottesville. "Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time."
There was no reason for him to invoke Obama, except that there is always a reason to invoke Obama. The politician who rose to prominence by casting doubts on the legitimacy of the first black president would have you believe that he himself is blameless for whatever unnamed, mysterious force may be dividing this country.
Or, if Trump is to blame, then so is the 44th president, and so are the counter-protesters who took to the streets of Charlottesville to tell a band of white supremacists that they may represent what the country has been but will never embody what America should be.
The counter-protesters, those marching for the proposition that all men are created equal -- they're apparently part of the problem, too. "On many sides," Trump said. "On many sides."
On a day that called for the president to take a stand, he instead made a perverse call for unity. "I love the people of our country," Trump said at the end of his Bedminster Address. "I love all of the people of our country. We're going to make America great again. But we're going to make it great for all of the people of the United States of America."
The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville heard that call, and so did the posters on the Daily Stormer. "On many sides," Trump said. These are not anodyne words. They are dangerous ones. On Saturday, the president had the chance to tell the nation what it is he does and doesn't believe in. That's exactly what he did.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.