Hundreds of white people—mostly young men, but also some women—wielding tiki torches and chanting Nazi and racist slogans disrupted the peace Friday night at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It was a scene that could have happened in 1930s Germany, but it is August 2017 and this is Donald Trump’s America.
Unsurprisingly, the white supremacist night rally ended in violence as participants began brawling with counterdemonstrators at the feet of Thomas Jefferson’s statue on the university he founded nearly 200 years ago. Someone also maced the torch–bearers, likely a member of the group of Antifa counterprotesters on hand.
The guttural sound of hundreds of white men chanting, “We will not be replaced!” as they snaked their way through campus is chilling and also embarrassing in its boundless ignorance. The local newspaper, The Daily Progress, borrowed President Trump’s own words to describe the event: “Fire and Fury.”
The neo–Nazis also surrounded a church, intimidating churchgoers.
And the group’s underlying racism was on full display:
But as shocking and disturbing as Friday night’s rally was, the most impactful images came from a small group of counterdemonstrators, young UVA students, who stood at the base of Jefferson’s statue, completely enveloped by hate–filled men carrying torches, to declare their outright rejection of white supremacy.
While the march itself lasted only about a half–hour before police declared it an unlawful assembly, the violence and chaos that ensued could be a taste of what’s to come on Saturday, when thousands of neo–Nazis rebranded as the “alt–right” will hold a hate–fest they are calling “Unite the Right.”
In a statement on his Facebook, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said:
I have seen tonight the images of torches on the Grounds of the University of Virginia. When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights. Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.
He added, according to The Daily Progress, “Democracy may be noisy and it may be messy, but it remains the best system of government that people have figured out to use to govern themselves.”
The “Unite the Right” rally on Saturday will be held at noon in Emancipation Park, the location of the controversial statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which the city already has voted to remove. The city had tried to move the rally away from downtown Charlottesville, but a lawsuit supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and backed by a judge’s ruling kept it at Emancipation Park.
City Manager Maurice Jones said that the deployment of Virginia State Police planned for Saturday would be the largest in three decades, according to the Progress. The Virginia National Guard also will be on standby, with the governor monitoring events closely.
Counterdemonstrators awoke early Saturday morning to begin marching through the city in anticipation of the expected showdown. Police Chief Al Thomas called the event “a significant challenge” and a cause of “a lot of anxiety in the community.”
On Twitter, President Trump remained silent about Friday night’s violence in Charlottesville.
Update, 11:03 a.m.: The “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi/KKK rally hasn’t even started yet in Charlottesville, but already violence and chaos have broken out.