(I originally wrote this as a Facebook post on my personal page as a profile picture update and regular status update. At the time I’m publishing this, between the two posts, the message has been been shared over 50 times and seems to have struck a chord with my friends in Charlottesville so I’m brave enough to publish it here for posterity now too)
*trigger warning: This post contains, what some might consider, a graphic retelling of the events from Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017. This is mostly written for people who weren’t there, so if you were then take into consideration that it may bring back painful memories before reading it straight through.*
If you were tuning out the news around this time last year and didn’t hear about what happened in Charlottesville, that’s probably fair. There’s a lot of crazy stuff out there on the internet these days and it’s easy to ignore provocatively headlined click bait (you’re probably better off if you do, honestly).
So, if you didn’t look into it, or if you were skeptical when you scrolled by something that said, or heard someone say, that three people died after roughly 500 Nazis and Klansmen descended on some city in Virginia last year then I can’t blame you too much. It really does sound too ridiculous to believe.
It actually happened, though (multiple links from various sources at the bottom of the post).
I’ve made a lot of friends in Charlottesville over the last year and, while I’d known about the “alt-right” movement for a while before there was actually a rally there, it wasn’t until I made those connections that I really appreciated how deep the scars from the “Unite The Right Rally” were.
There’s a reason why I put “alt-right” in air quotes up there, by the way. If you’ve not looked into it before, that term might sound like you’d use it to describe edgy millennials who maybe feel strongly that federal taxes are too high or that entitlement programs dissolve the spirit of meritocracy. You know, people who you may or may not have a strong difference of opinion with on a particular issue but could still, probably, be comfortable holding a philosophical debate with, ultimately agreeing to disagree, and then moving on.
You would be wrong for thinking that though, and that’s an intentional branding maneuver of the term “alt-right” to pacify outrage.
I might sound hyperbolic here, (I promise I’m not and I’ll link an interview with Richard Spencer at the end so you can hear it for yourself if you want), but that term represents those who support a “white Ethno-State” in America.
In other words, they want an American government that segregates people who aren’t white, prohibits immigration of people who aren’t white, and are, at best, pretty vague about what to do with people who aren’t white but already live here.
If that sounds like it is, or is just close enough to being, neo-Nazi or KKK hate speech to you, that’s because it should.
So, please, if you’re still with me, imagine roughly *500* people who believe that kind of thing, as well as openly identifying neo-Nazis and KKK members, are marching through your town; Not just what you imagine a place like Charlottesville to look like, I really want you to imagine your town.
Now, imagine they are marching through your town.
They are marching by the job you or your husband or wife work at. They are marching by the park you take your children to. They are marching by your favorite restaurant or coffee spot or bar. They lift signs with racist and anti-semetic slogans and they chant those slogans in loud unison and with uncanny conviction. They wave Nazi & Confederate flags and they brandish knives, clubs, and shields.
Now imagine that the police aren’t trying to stop them.
Now imagine that roughly twice that many people (many of whom are your friends, coworkers, associates, neighbors) are there standing up against the hatred. They’re there to declare that that kind of thinking, perhaps aside from a cautionary history on how inhumanity and atrocity is bred, deserves no serious discussion in our society (it doesn’t). Some of them have come prepared to protect you and your family and your town (if necessary). There are brawls in the street and chaos is erupting.
Now, imagine the police are, finally, called in to try and quell the erupting chaos but now it’s too late.
There is panic and rioting through your town, outside your or your husband’s or your wife’s job, by the park you take your children to, by your favorite restaurant or coffee stop or bar.
Now imagine that a helicopter crashes in the distance and, in your town, a silver car ploughs through a line of people (many of whom are your friends, coworkers, associates, neighbors).
One person dies and 19 are seriously injured. Imagine that you knew one of the people who were hurt.
Now imagine that you knew the person who died.
Now imagine that the President makes a statement. He has an opportunity to explicitly condemn racism in our modern age and to show solidarity with the people who stood up against it and who stood up to protect you, your family, and your town (many of whom were your friends, co-workers, associates, neighbors).
Now imagine that he doesn’t.
You still live in your town. It doesn’t feel the same way anymore. You remember what you saw, what you heard, where you ran, where you tried to stay safe. It’s been almost a year and the anniversary of it all is a few days away.
Now imagine that some meaningful amount of those same 500 people, perhaps new ones too, with the same hate in their hearts and their ideas and their voices, want to come back to your town.
Now, how do you feel?
We live in really troubled times and it can feel like everywhere you look there’s a new thing to be upset about, but this is one of those things where I think awareness is really important. Today the governor preemptively declared Charlottesville under a state of emergency for the upcoming anniversary and I’m really concerned for my friends, but I’m also very concerned about a world where ideas like those expressed by Richard Spencer and other forms of hate speech are taken seriously by some.
If you are the parent of, or if you work closely with young and potentially impressionable people, this is especially important. Please read or watch or listen about what happened last year in Charlottesville. Please try to have a potentially awkward conversation with a child or young adult in your life about what’s going on. If they’re using the internet, try to explain to them how to identify if they’ve stumbled upon hate-speech or propaganda. Expose them to other cultures when and where you can, and remind them to look for the common humanity in people. Arm them with experience and compassion so that they might read through the fallacies and fears and false assumptions of far-right extremism. Encourage them to learn another language so they might experience the frustration of not being able to say what they mean to a new person (you don’t even necessarily have to travel for this anymore if you have internet access) and can translate that experience into empathy and love for others who are different.
You shouldn’t have ever needed to do any of those things to help prevent the spread of fascist ideas in America in a post Holocaust world, but here we are, and it looks like it might need to be done.
If you’re just reading this somewhere that’s a safe distance away from Charlottesville or DC, please consider researching what happened further and sharing this.
If you’re reading this and you’re in those areas right now, I love you and be careful.
Please watch this documentary about the philosophies of the alt-right and what happened in Charlottesville and review any of the other links I referenced:
*some links to what happened in Charlottesville last year from various other sources:
*trigger warning* Link to Richard Spencer’s interview and some of the radical ideals that inform the “alt-right.” https://www.npr.org/2016/11/17/502476139/were-not-going-away-alt-right-leader-on-voice-in-trump-administration