Our neighbors in Charlottesville are still reeling from this past weekend’s events turned violent on University of Virginia’s campus. White supremacists and neo-Nazi groups came fully clad in battle armaments and fascist regalia to assert their “Unite the Right” message of the need for an ethno-state, and its aftermath has spawned heated debate over the prevalence of racism, historically racist monuments, and the current administration’s lack of a response to it all. The same day Heather Heyer was killed and several others injured by one of the supremacists in attendance, Donald Trump publicly condemned violence coming from “many sides”, careful not to call out the extremism that came decked out in Swastika gear.
After mounting pressure and public condemnation coming from both parties, Trump took two days to address the nation and condemned the heinous actions of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who terrorized UV’s campus that day.
One day later, after making a public statement that came two days too late, Trump backtracked and again defended his “many sides” argument. The public address was so fitting that even David Duke thanked Trump for condemning what Duke called “leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”
A former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan just publicly thanked a United States president for a public address. This is a moment that should garner an appropriate mix of fear, despair and uncertainty--all elements of a white supremacist agenda that breeds on hatred. Trump went out of his way to state that there were “great people on both sides” in his newest public address--he went out of his way to comfort and reassure the supremacists and fascists that terrorized UVA’s campus and the nation at large that their actions were tolerable, so long as a day has passed.
VICE News released on the ground footage and personal accounts of that day in Charlottesville, and the message was clear that Donald Trump has a base whose hate-filled agenda feels its greatest support comes from the leader of our country. David Duke was seen in the video, arguing that they had a permit to march and to occupy UV’s campus, and in Trump’s address today he made it clear that many of the people who clashed with white supremacists did not have permits and were “very violent”. He also made it a point to explain that, in order for him to make a constructive public response, he “wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians,” that what he would say “was correct”.
He needed time to gather all the facts, to carefully analyze each photo from that day’s events, to make sure that the supremacists in attendance were really donning Swastikas.
We are currently witnessing a horrifying attempt by this administration to defend the motives and actions of racist and violent neo-Confederates bent on asserting their demands for an ethno-state, and somehow there remains a nationwide divide. Trump used his address to cast blame on what he called “the alt-left”, further instigating hostility against any movements considered inclusive. He silenced reporters at the address after asking for the definition of “Alt-Right”, and chose to supplant it with “Alt-Left” propaganda. Donald Trump supports white supremacy in ways that made his first month in office now look “Alt-Lite”.
Neo-Nazi groups have continued to argue that this hostile kind of speech is strictly protected by their First Amendment rights, even if that hostile speech leads to violence. That speech was just protected by the highest position in our government. Somehow, despite the message of “ethnic cleansing” and rampant attacks on diversity of any kind, there remains palpable indifference and even opposition to the idea that more needs to be done to prevent white supremacists from further terrorizing our streets and airwaves.
Jamal Michel is a featured guest columnist. He is a Duke graduate and high school English teacher in Durham.
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