Rescue personnel help an injured woman after a car ran into a large group of protesters after an white nationalist rally Aug. 12 in Charlottesville. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Neo-nazis and white supremacists once again descended in Charlottesville Aug. 11 to rally in opposition of removing a General Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park. However, unlike previous rallies, the “Unite the Right” rally reportedly included torches, racist and anti-Semitic comments, and ultimately, violence and death.
Protesters and counter-protesters clashed, leaving one dead when a driver identified as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, drove his car into counter-protesters. The victim was identified as Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville. Nineteen other people were injured by the car. A total of 34 people were injured in clashes between the protesters and counter protesters.
“The terrible incidence of violence in Charlottesville is a painful reminder of the blatant racism, unbridled lynchings and other violence against citizens of African descent that permeated the history of this country,” Virginia State Conference of the NAACP President Linda Thomas said in a statement. “This goes to the very core of the existence of the NAACP and our continuing struggle against forces of hate.”
At 11:28 a.m. Aug. 12, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a state of emergency.
“I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours. The actions I have taken are intended to assist local government and restore public safety,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “My entire team will continue to monitor this situation throughout the day, and take appropriate action as necessary.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, 2017 Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie, Attorney General Mark Herring and candidate John Adams and Lt. Gov. candidates Justin Fairfax and Jill Vogel all condemned the racism and violence of the Saturday rally.
President Donald Trump denounced the violence later Aug. 12. However, he did not specifically denounce white supremacists or neo-nazis, leading to bipartisan criticism.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a statement denouncing the rally and violence and stating that the organization will continue to stand against hate and people who threaten the moral right of the community.
“These kinds of actions should come as no surprise, however. We are living under an administration that campaigned on hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. They have given permission and a platform for bigots, like the right-wing, white nationalists in Charlottesville, to thrive and spread violence,” interim president and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson said while the NAACP acknowledges and appreciates President Trump’s disavowment of the hatred displayed, they are calling for the removal of advisor Steve Bannon, who Johnson called a “well-known white supremacist leader.”
“Bannon serves as a symbol of white nationalism and his high place in the White House only energizes that sentient,” Johnson said. “We must help to bridge what divides Americans rather than widen the gap between us. In the meantime, the NAACP stands strong with our brothers and sisters in Charlottesville who are gathering, marching and singing for peace. We are and will continue to be steadfast and immovable in the fight against discrimination, prejudice and hatred — and we are not afraid.”
The presidents of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, and the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP also issued a joint statement regarding the senseless racist hate rally, violence and loss of life in Charlottesville, calling for citizens to vote and become politically active to bring about change.
“On numerous occasions the city of Charlottesville has spent thousands of dollars to support KKK rallies — and city merchants have expressed their dissatisfaction with the loss of revenue that occurs during these rallies.” Albermarle-Charlottesvile NAACP President Jeanette Martin said. “Violence did not have to be demonstrated in order to express freedom of speech. It appears that free speech was secondary to their main purpose which was to wreak havoc and violence in the community.They have been emboldened by the words and vocabulary of elected officials at the highest levels.”
Martin also commended the people of faith here Charlottesville who worked to set a moral tone, and sacrificing themselves and their safety to drown out the message of hate. She said she was especially thankful as students and parents returning to the University of Virginia for the start of the school year.
“White supremacists and today’s purveyors of hate should find no shadows in which to hide. Our forefathers shed blood so that in 2017, this type of violence would be a footnote of the past.” Thomas said. “We applaud our governor, Terry McAuliffe, whose statement today is in alignment with the NAACP mission. And we encourage the Governor to use the full force of his executive powers to eradicate race based barriers in all areas of life within the state. The Virginia State Conference will remain steadfast in our advocacy and activism as we push forward in our fight for legislative changes, expansion of voting rights and sound public policies that equally serve and protect all citizens within the commonwealth. And we will persist until we drive racism, and racist behavior from our midst.”
Johnson again called on Trump to denounce the violence as an act of terrorism and condemn the repeated white-supremacist rhetoric.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives in Charlottesville,” Johnson said. “We stand firm with our commitment to acknowledge our differences, to embrace them as the richness of the American mosaic and we’ll continue to lead the fight for the right to peaceably assemble.”