This weekend groups of individuals gathered at Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest … something. What the groups were protesting is not quite clear: that the protest was an unfiltered expression of white supremacy is quite clear.
Images of whites brandishing tiki torches by the Rotunda at the University of Virginia filled Friday evening social media. The next day, the protests moved to Emancipation Park, ostensibly to object to the efforts by the Charlottesville City Council to relocate the equestrian monument of Robert E. Lee still standing at what was once called Lee Park, just north of downtown Richmond. Counterprotesters soon appeared, as did law enforcement. The scene looked rowdy and ugly …
… and then it got worse, when a car bearing Ohio licence plates plowed into a crowd of counterprotestors just south of the pedestrian mall. One woman was killed, nineteen people were injured, according to media reports … and this was in addition to fifteen people reported injured earlier during confrontations during the protest.
My sympathies to the families and friends of those who died today and best wishes for the recovery of those injured. It’s a tragedy.
President Donald J. Trump declared, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Critics noted the president’s failure to single out the white supremacists who instigated the rally: apparently the man who chided others for their inability to say “radical Islamic terrorism” finds saying “white supremacist terrorism” very difficult.
Taken together, the events at Richmond’s public hearing this past week concerning what to do with that city’s Confederate statuary and the protests and violence at Charlottesville, as well as the reaction to these events, lead us to several conclusions:
1. While not all advocates of Confederate heritage are racists, one cannot deny that there are links between certain prominent Confederate heritage groups and white supremacists/nationalists, as the case of Matthew Heimbach suggests.
2. Confederate heritage advocates generally are muted if not completely silent when it comes the the activities of Confederate Battle Flag-waving white supremacists/nationalists. You won’t see the Virginia Flaggers denounce them; you won’t see Connie Chastain put out memes assailing them; you won’t hear a peep from Virginia Whine Country; and we await the Sons of Confederate Veterans announcing that the use of the CBF in Saturday’s events constitutes a “heritage violation.” In large part this is because a good number of the supporters of such groups share the racial attitudes of white supremacists, as we’ve demonstrated in Chastain’s case. In other cases, they’re just skeered.
3. Charlottesville 2017 may join Charleston 2015 as signposts on the path to the eradication of Confederate symbols on public land. I’ve always thought that white supremacists are their own worst enemies, and, just as Charleston 2015 created a backlash against Confederate symbols, so will Charlottesville 2017.
4. The hearings in Richmond this past week suggested that middle ground between those who want monuments to stay in place without any contextual interpretation and those who want removal (yes, I recall someone recently called for destruction, but let’s set that aside) is eroding quickly. Forced to make a choice between extremes, policymakers and politicians are unlikely to render many decisions that will please advocates of Confederate heritage. Nor will what happened in Charlottesville these past several days help heritage advocates in the long run, in part because of their own flaccid reaction to events. Meanwhile, removal/relocation will pick up support.
I’ve always said that (1) Confederate heritage advocates are their own worse enemies and (2) they seem unwilling to disassociate themselves from white supremacists or denounce them with anywhere near the same vigor with which they assail their critics elsewhere. We are about to see the consequences of those decisions.