Nearly a year has passed since white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia under the banner of “Unite the Right.”
In that time, Frontline PBS and ProPublica have teamed up to produce a new documentary titled, “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville” which will premier this evening on PBS.
Investigative reporter A.C. Thompson spearheaded the effort to identify and locate white supremacists both in Charlottesville as well as throughout the nation.
What began as a rally to protect a Confederate monument to General Robert E. Lee quickly devolved into a chaotic white supremacist march that culminated in the death of anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer.
“You know, we went down there, and we went to the event, myself and my colleagues, because I had seen this resurgence of white power, white supremacist activity, that I hadn’t seen in decades. I had reported on these people in the ’90s, and they had sort of faded away. And then, in the last two years, they had really come back with a vengeance. There were all these new groups, all these new activists, all these new leaders. And they sort of seemed to be piggybacking on the Trump moment and trying to build their movement again. We went down there. We were expecting it to be possibly bloody, possibly violent, but we did not expect it to be what it turned out to be, which was lethal.” — Thompson
In an interview with DemocracyNow!, Thompson emphasized that the president’s language and behavior have had measurable effects on our society and are certainly a factor in the national trend of increasing racial violence and white supremacy.
As an example, Thompson used the following exchange between reporters and the president following the deadly rally:
REPORTER 1: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the counterprotesters to blame—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I do think there’s blame—yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at—you look at both sides, I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either. And—and—
REPORTER 1: But only the Nazis—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And—and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
REPORTER 2: One side killed a person. Heather Heyer died—
REPORTER 1: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.
REPORTER 1: —to protest the removal of that statue.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They didn’t put themselves down as neo—and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
This, Thompson says, this moment and this statement were instrumental in making white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel as though they have a place in today’s culture; as though their vile hatred were acceptable and even commendable.
“You know, for members of the white power movement, this was a sort of opening. They said, “Hey, the president is basically lending us some support. He’s not totally condemning us. He’s saying some of us are fine people.” And the folks that I talked to in that movement took heart in that. They felt inspired and excited about that. And they thought, you know, “This guy is on our side.”” — Thompson
As the people of Washington, D.C. prepare to cope with white supremacists and neo-Nazis in their midst, it is essential that those of us who oppose such ignorance and hatred focus on training ourselves and our allies to be alert, aware, and ready to respond in the face of unexpected violence.
It is even more important that this training focus on maintaining a nonviolent stance regardless of the violence one may be threatened with.
The very character of the “Unite the Right” rallies must be challenged, and the only way to accomplish this is by employing tactics that are in direct opposition to theirs; when they meet us with violence, we must meet them with peace.
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” — Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Iron Triangle Press is devoted to covering incidents of injustice and violence and will continue to follow this story.
Check out this incredible, in-depth Handbook for Nonviolent Action from the SOA Watch Collective.
Don’t forget to watch “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville” tonight on PBS.