By guest editorial columnist Lachlan James
On August 12th, sympathizers met in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. White nationalists held a two-day “Unite the Right” rally to show their opposition to the city’s plan to remove the statue. When protesters without permits flooded the streets the second day of the rally, violence ensued. Over the past several weeks, the effort to take down and conversely protect the Confederate monuments has grown into a widespread movement across the United States, including our home state.
As with all politics, things get complicated very fast. The media runs with the issue and jumps to conclusions. When one turns on the television, they are sure to see videos of men with torches, crazy protesters throwing bricks and bottles, and swastika flags. To rationally assess the two different sides of the issue, one must look critically at the fact. Studying the facts will help one deflect the rumors and political ravings circulating around the internet and seen on television.
So what was going on in Charlottesville? The city had just voted on the name of Lee Park, a public historic park near the downtown, change to Emancipation Park. After the change of names, the city subsequently voted to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee found in the middle of the park. Protesters organized by Jason Kessler, a well-known white nationalist of Charlottesville, planned to hold a two-day rally in protest of the decision to change the name. Yet, the rally became a protest of the removal of the statue. The rally began on Friday, August 11th. Hundreds of men with torches chanting “you will not replace us” marched towards the statue of Lee through downtown Charlottesville.
The following day, the rally was planned to continue in the afternoon, but after the preceding night’s activities, counter-protesters flocked to Charlottesville. Alt-left groups such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa—a radical group of anti-fascist anarchists—among many others came in force to protest the rally. At the same time, the radical hosts of the rally—the KKK, the League of the South, the Nationalist Front (a neo-nazi white supremacist group), and the aforementioned alt-left groups all showed up with shields, bats, and helmets. Some protesters were peaceful and did not partake in any violence. When these radical groups met, the afternoon’s planned rally of speeches erupted into a violent protest.
What we saw last month was a meeting of two very different sides of the political spectrum. Neither of those ideals represents either of the established political parties. Antifa—the radical alt-left, anti-fascist organization—does not reflect the values of the Democratic Party. In the same way, the KKK does not reflect the views of the Republican Party. Many Republican senators have even started using #ThisIsNotUs, to show their opposition to the radical riots seen in Charlottesville. Even though there were radical groups present at the protests and the rally being held was blatantly racist, the actions of radical left groups such as Antifa heighten the problem.
In early August, Donald Trump was highly criticized for blaming “both sides.” Radical groups allow such blatant statements to be made. When Antifa gets involved and starts throwing bricks, it discredits the real problems at hand. We really do need to denounce the alt-right, and we really do need to eradicate racism. When an individual hears Donald Trump blaming “both sides,” too often does the listener hear only his side being degraded.
So what has come of all of this? The rally held in Charlottesville was coordinated by radical racist groups. There are real issues of bigotry and prejudice in this country that we need to deal with, but the attention is taken away from these important subjects when violent protesters take the attention of the entire media. There is a lot of hate, confusion, ignorance, and anger in this country at the moment, and these emotions were physically manifested. To truly understand the issues brought to these types of situations, we must step back and look at the full picture.