Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a hateful young man purposely plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting the “Unite the Right” rally that had drawn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing militia groups to Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Nineteen others were injured in Saturday’s domestic terror attack.
Just hours before the attack, that man, James Fields Jr., 20, was photographed with a shield bearing a white supremacist emblem. He has since been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Speaking to reporters outside her home on Sunday, Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, said this: “I am extremely proud of my daughter. I am extremely proud that she stood for what she believed in, that she not only gave mouth to it, but she gave heart to it, she gave her soul to it, and now she’s given her life to it.”
“She was always passionate about the beliefs she held, she had a bigger backbone than I did,” Heather’s father told CNN.
“Heather was such a sweet soul, and she did not deserve to die,” her friend, Marissa Blair told The New York Times. Alfred Wilson, a colleague at the law firm in Charlottesville where Heyer was a paralegal, described Heather as was a “very strong woman” who fought against “any type of discrimination.”
— Andy Campbell (@AndyBCampbell) August 13, 2017
By all accounts, the President has yet to contact Heather Heyer’s family directly to express his condolences.
Like many Southern cities, Charlottesville still has a number of public monuments and squares celebrating the so-called heroes of the Confederacy. Following the 2015 massacre by the young white supremacist, Dylann Roof, at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, however, many mayors and activists renewed efforts to remove these statues and to rename those public streets and squares that still honored the Confederacy and its cause.
“I think the more important part is it should have never been there,” Gov. Haley said when the Confederate flag was taken down from the statehouse after the slaughter. “These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”
But progress has not come without intense backlash from “proud” Southerners and white nationalists who claim that these Confederate heroes are part of their “heritage.” The majority of these monuments were, however, erected in the 20th century, many between 1898 and 1920, in reaction to Reconstruction, a burgeoning civil rights movement and the slow collapse of the Jim Crow South.
Mayor Gray discusses Confederate statueshttps://t.co/jA2chYSKkW
— Mayor Jim Gray (@JimGrayLexKY) August 13, 2017
In his essay, “It’s No Longer About Southern Heritage. In Fact, It Never Was,” Tyler Coates challenges the familiar and convenient narrative that he grew up hearing in Montross, Virginia, telling his fellow Southerners that it’s time to “recognize the lies we’ve been telling ourselves for over a century.” The men and women at the “Unite the Right” rally on Saturday were not protesting the loss of Southern history and culture, says Coates, but were reacting instead “to their own deluded notions that white people are losing control of our country.”
Even the term “alt-right” is “an attempt to rebrand warmed-over Reconstruction-era white supremacy as a cool, new (and harmless!) internet fad,” wrote Lindy West in 2016.
The “Unite the Right” rally was first proposed and organized by Jason Kessler, a Charlottesville resident and member of the Proud Boys, a loose collective of pro-Trump alt-rightists. Worried about the high potential for violence at a gathering with armed citizens, Charlottesville’s city government attempted to move the rally to McIntire Park, away from downtown Charlottesville, but a judge’s injunction the night before allowed Kessler’s original plan to hold it in Emancipation Park to proceed.
The white supremacists had better guns than the cops did. That’s got to be worth mentioning.
On Sunday, Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer called out the rally’s organizers and rejected criticism that the police response was inadequate: “There were almost 1,000 law enforcement officers on the ground for an operation in a city of 50,000 people,” he said, adding, “Thank God it wasn’t worse. No shots were fired. No other lives were lost. No property was damaged.”
But white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, who helped organize the rally, told the PBS NewsHour that he thought Saturday’s rally had been a real success and the white nationalist movement was only getting stronger. “If the nationalist community can come together, stand together and fight together, then we are going to be unstoppable… it used to be a rally of 50 guys was very successful. Now we’re rallying 1000, 1500 people in the streets.”
In fact, many white nationalists and neo-Nazis agree, believing that the rally, which never actually got underway, marks a pivotal moment because they were able to provoke violence and get news of their movement covered by the mainstream media and on TV broadcasts. Social media has only enabled many of these radicalized (mostly) young white men to organize and spread their message much more quickly.
“Previously, if you wanted to hear these kind of messages,” says NewsHour‘s P.J. Tobia, “you had to go to some sort of weird bookstore downtown where they sold foreign magazines, whereas now, on Twitter, bots can be used to flood any Twitter stream with their messages of hate.”
Meanwhile, President Trump took to the podium on Tuesday to reverse his position for the second time in as many days, contradicting his scripted and slightly more conciliatory comments on Monday to return to his original argument following Saturday’s domestic terror attack that “many sides” were to blame for the violence. All while his new chief of staff, former Marine Corps General John Kelly, stared studiously at the floor.
If the Nazi slogans, salutes, and chants of “Jews will not replace us” were not enough to convince the President that the rally was not, in fact, attended by “very fine people,” the burning torches, reminiscent of Klan rallies and Nazis parades, should have given him pause.
At a press conference ostensibly scheduled to discuss his executive order on infrastructure, Trump seemed fired up and anxious to duke it out with “the media.” With little prompting, Trump rejected numerous eyewitness accounts and, instead, launched into a vigorous defense of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis at the rally, citing a litany of alt-right talking points as he faulted the “alt-left who came charging” at them. In short, the President retracted his day-old denunciation of the alt-right and Heather Heyer’s murder and rewarded them with a champion in the presidency.
American white nationalist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier, convicted felon, politician and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux, David Duke, recognized it immediately and thanked the President for his “courage.”
Trump went on to accuse the press of being dishonest, of “changing history and culture,” before he equated the likes of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, traitors and leaders of a failed armed rebellion against the Republic, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, nation-builders and legitimate U.S. presidents. “Who’s next?” Trump implored.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017
The entire country, the entire world, has now witnessed the President of the United States draw a false moral equivalency between white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other radical right-wing militia groups and the patriotic Americans who chose to stand up to their hateful rhetoric and subversive agenda.
“That was not a dog-whistle, that was an air raid siren,” Charles Pierce said of Trump’s press conference on All In With Chris Hayes.
Despite all his handlers, and his aides’ best efforts to conceal the truth, the President has shown the American people, once again, what truly moves him and demonstrated that he is inherently incapable of the moral leadership that his position and this country require of him.
Sadly, the President has also reminded us that he will stop at nothing to satiate his bloodthirsty base. Trump didn’t accidentally “go rogue” on Tuesday anymore than the right-wing hate groups converging on Charlottesville accidentally set off violence in Charlottesville. He is, and always has been, consciously engaging and empowering a faction that has always been a part of American politics but has, up until now, been denounced and held at bay, however imperfectly, by our two major political parties. In stark contrast to nearly every president that has come before him, this President is now openly courting white nationalists, and in so doing, giving them a license to hate and to commit premeditated violence against their fellow Americans.
Following the press conference, House Speaker Ryan condemned white supremacy as repulsive but he did not call out the President by name. As of Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had yet to comment on Trump’s unhinged tirade.
Today is a day of moral reckoning. Now is the time for Republicans to do what they could not do after the Republican primaries — to come out forcefully and unequivocally against the President’s moral failure, to call out the President by name. It is no longer enough to simply condemn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan in the abstract. It is no longer enough to visit black churches to denounce racism. Although a visit white churches to declare the same would be a welcome departure. Now is the right time for the GOP to renounce this President and his administration’s racist agenda entirely.
Now is also the time for Democrats to stand in staunch opposition to this President as well as to any GOP policy designed to further disenfranchise and marginalize African Americans, Muslims and any other so-called minorities — to offer a grander vision and practical plan for building a better America.
Heather’s mother vowed to be the voice for justice that her daughter could no longer be. Heather’s mother said she was proud of her daughter and what she fought for. Here’s to the day when we can, once again, say the same about the leader of our nation.
– Danielle Bizzarro