The horrific terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, August 12 immediately followed the ominous warning the night before of torch-wielding
Whites marching on the University of Virginia campus to the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, located in what had been called Lee Park but was being changed to Liberty Park. They were marching in protest of the imminent removal of Lee’s statue, which has increasingly been recognized as an homage to the general who fought the Civil War on behalf of the slaveholders in the South. The fact that Lee and the Confederates who followed him were technically traitors to the country, or that the “Southern way of life” they fought for was built around the brutal oppression and enslavement of people of Afrikan descent, is lost on these racist, venal hooligans who clearly want to “take their country back” to the days of rampant White privilege on the backs of Black people in the United States.
The statements of US president Donald Trump, as the supposed “leader of the free world”, are no less repugnant than the terroristic acts of these “Alt-Right” hooligans, as he first attempted to conflate the aggressive violence of the Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and White Supremacist marchers with the clearly defensive actions of the faith leaders, anti-fascist (“Antifas“) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists who found themselves under attack by these angry White men who wielded tiki torches chanting “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi-inspired slogan), “You will not replace us” (another White Supremacist slogan motivated by the irrational fear of people of color “taking their jobs and opportunities from them”), and “F**k You F*gg*ts” (anti-LGBTQ taken to extremes), all designed to elicit fear among the anti-fascist demonstrators who included such “dangerous individuals” as the Rev. Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ and Dr. Cornell West.
The violence of these White Supremacist attackers led to a tragic, but predictable result: Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal who lived in Charlottesville, was killed by a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr, age 20, of Maumee, Ohio, as he first drove forward into a crowd of counter-protesters and then reversed back up the narrow street, hitting several people, seriously injuring up to 19 more.
And Trump did not miss the opportunity to lower himself even below the standards he had set with every race-baiting, dog-whistle remark he made during the presidential campaign and the first seven months of his markedly un-presidential presidency.
Trump began on Saturday, August 12 with a statement that denounced “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.” The public outrage at his attempt to create a “moral equivalency” between the violent White Supremacists and the anti-fascist protesters who were their targets caused Trump’s staff to release a more innocuous statement the next day. His handlers on the White House staff then convinced him to recite a revised statement from a teleprompter on Monday, August 14 finally condemning the Klan, the Nazis and White Supremacists. However, he reversed his field yet again the following day (Tuesday, August 15) in what was billed as an “infrastructure press conference” but which seemed to quickly degenerate into a disjointed, unhinged rant after reporters began to pose questions about his response to the Charlottesville attack and his irritation grew that there were those who questioned his sincerity about healing the nation. His response was to double-down on his Saturday remarks, insisting that the White Supremacist marchers included a number of “very fine people” who were “quietly marching” in Charlottesville against the taking of the Lee statue, and that the “Alt-Left” had been just as aggressive and “very violent”, attacking the “Alt-Right” marchers with clubs.
As if that was not enough to make his point, he then launched into a defense of the Confederate statues of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, questioning the decision to take them down in the first place because George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also held Black people in enslavement, completely overlooking or ignoring the fact that Lee and Jackson had actually betrayed the United States and that Lee was at one point sentenced to be executed for treason.
As Jamil Smith explained in a Los Angeles Times article, “Why would Charlottesville racists do so much to protect a Robert E. Lee statue?” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-smith-charlottesville-statue-20170814-story.html), August 14, 2017:
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu … delivered a landmark speech outlining exactly why he pushed, successfully, to have his city’s monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow torn down.
“These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy,” he said. “After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.”
In this way only does it start to make sense that racists would commit terrorism to defend monuments. The monuments themselves are terrorism. Thus the Lee
sculpture honors a dishonorable man while encouraging his ideological descendants and expressing to black people that America is not ours, too. “White nationalist” is the appropriate term to use, since a white ethno-state is what Confederates sought and what their modern-day brethren still wish to achieve.
After Charlottesville, it should be clear now to everyone that the urgency to rid ourselves of these markers of America’s racist past comes not from some childish desire to block out painful history, but to challenge a racist present. White nationalism is not just a cultural legacy. It is an ongoing public safety crisis, and should be treated as such.
Trump’s remarks were almost unanimously derided as yet another example of a president “going rogue” and resorting to ad-libbing in response to interrogation from his enemy, the press. But television talk show host Rachel Maddow, on her Wednesday evening show on MSNBC, made note of a small, folded page Trump held at the press conference that was the written statement he had made Saturday, without the “on many sides” comment, an indication that this defense of his incendiary statements was actually planned in advance and not actually the “off-the-rails” diatribe many observers thought them to be. The implication there is that Trump had always planned to make those remarks and to give license to the reactionary White Supremacist right-wing to ramp up their tactics of intimidation and violence.
The responses so far from political representatives and members of the media, for the most part, has been one of condemnation. Only the farthest right-wing pundits have attempted to defend Trump’s remarks, falling in line with Ku Klux Klan former Grand Wizard David Duke, who had stated at the Charlottesville march the intent of the marchers to “realize the promise of Donald Trump” and who tweeted his appreciation of Trump’s “courage” in directing his August 15 remarks against the “Alt-Left”.
All these recriminations have so far glossed over the fact that so-called “conservatives” in the Republican Party in particular have been banking on racial dog-whistle tactics for generations, and Trump is only the most overt and crass version since the years of Wallace, Goldwater and Nixon. Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes in a commentary for the Electronic Urban Report titled “You Can Thank Trump for the White Nationalist Rampage” (http://www.eurweb.com/2017/08/you-can-thank-trump-for-the-white-nationalist-rampage/#) on August 13:
It was both hilarious and telling to see # 45 Donald Trump tweet that he condemns “all that hate stands for” following the racial fomented violence by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The hilarity is that one would have to reach back to presidential candidate George Wallace in 1964, and maybe toss in GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, to find someone who aspired to sit in the Oval Office that so blatantly, nakedly, and shamefully pandered to racial bigots to snatch the office as Trump did. His broadsides against Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, blacks, and women, are almost the stuff of political legend. …
We gave the above description of the events stemming from the Charlottesville march and attack primarily because of what appears to be a surprising lack of coverage on many of the nation’s media outlets (with the exceptions of networks such as MSNBC and Free Speech TV). The question at this point, for those of us in the Pan-Afrikan and activist community is: what do we plan to do about it?
We received the following statement about the August 12 Charlottesville attack from the 8th Pan African Congress, courtesy of the Pan-Afrikan publication Self-Help News (email@example.com):
No To Charlottesville!
14 August 2017 12:19
The Pan African Congress
North American Delegation
Don’t Agonize, Organize!
The North American Delegation to the 8th Pan African Congress condemns in the strongest terms the actions of the white supremacists, racists, anti-Semites and bigots, collectively characterized as “Alt-Right,” who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, promoted and engaged in domestic terrorism for the “Unite the Right” rally. We also condemn the failure of the U.S. President, Donald J. Trump to clearly and forcefully express similar sentiments.
We recognize that Donald J. Trump rose to fame on the back of his claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to be president. We acknowledge that despite the random attacks on people of color throughout the United States over the past seven months, Donald J. Trump has failed to characterize a single incident as an act of domestic terror. We know that Donald J. Trump has as cabinet members, senior members of staff and significant consultants, people with a track record of close association with the “Alt. Right” or neo-Nazis.
We had hoped though that on this occasion, Donald J. Trump would recognize that African Americans and people of color have faced a gradual erosion of our rights on a daily basis by those who, as David Duke expressed at the rally, “put Trump in the presidency.” We have been faced with hate speech, hate crimes and simple hate in communities across the country as individuals have acted out what they think it means to have Trump as president. And it’s time to stop.
As the North American Delegation to the 8th Pan African Congress we encourage all who are concerned about the increasing role of bigotry, police brutality, militarism and the criminalization of Black lives to reach out to others with similar concerns and to look to history to gain guidance on the latest resurgence of racism within the United States.
We call on our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Global African family internationally to use all mechanisms at your disposal to condemn the actions of Donald J. Trump. The spread of white racism and chauvinism inside the USA remains a threat to oppressed peoples in all parts of the planet.
From the outset, the cardinal principle of Pan Africanism has been that the African in one part of the world is responsible for the well being of other Africans in every part of the globe. This spirit of Pan Africanism guided the solidarity and support of Africans from the time of the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to the fight against apartheid. This spirit of Pan Africanism must guide us all as we work to end racism at home and abroad in 2017 and beyond. August 13, 2017
North American Delegation – Pan African Congress
Pan African Movement
Meanwhile, the Electronic Urban Report (http://www.eurweb.com) released the story that the Illinois Senate has passed a non-binding bill to refer to White Supremacists as a “terrorist organization” (http://www.eurweb.com/2017/08/illinois-senate-passes-bill-call-white-supremacists-terrorist-organization/#).
There will certainly be more statements and commentaries on this issue in the next few days. We may share some of them on this website.