“Heil Trump,” the white supremacists chanted as they marched past me, turning my beloved hometown of Charlottesville into a rallying point for fascists, white supremacists, and their preppy enablers in the so-called “alt-right.” One side instigated the rally, dubbed it #UniteTheRight and spent months escalating violent rhetoric. President Trump blamed “many sides.” They rallied to prevent the removal of a Confederate statue. Trump’s nationally televised response—“we must cherish our history”—was heard less as a dog whistle than as a bullhorn.
Many of the racist ralliers intentionally invoked shocking images from our past, but if leaders, particularly on the right, do not quickly acknowledge the breadth and depth of this crisis, these new images may serve more as harbingers of our future. While Charlottesville played host, most of the pro-hate participants I interviewed came from across the mid-Atlantic and even Midwest. The man suspected of being the driver that plowed through anti-racist protestors was identified as a 20-year-old from Ohio. As for scope, while their numbers were only in the hundreds, a Republican candidate for Virginia governor this year who ran on a neo-confederate platform and embraced these groups’ calls to protect the monuments came within one percent of winning the nomination this summer.
While much can be debated about the event, a few items were very clear.
First, this was unequivocally about race, about white tribalism. For the hundreds who rallied, many of them heavily armed, race was the defining issue. No one I talked to mentioned economic anxiety or trade policy. “You will not replace us” was the leading chant, and I was…