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The Trap That Was Laid at Charlottesville

Although we didn’t know it at the time, the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017 would soon develop into a narrative for the left to repeat and then recycle in the summer riots of 2020 and eventually the events at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Anne Wilson Smith unpacks this narrative in her recent book, Charlottesville Untold, providing needed historical details for those exploring the broader implications of what transpired that fateful day.

Smith writes as someone from within the right. As a result, she does not deal with leftist demonstrators as empathetically as she does the protest participants from Unite the Right, along with their organizer Jason Kessler. But this book is of high value because it underscores the growing sense of being overwhelmed by events that Unite the Right leaders experienced. Smith puts their experience of helplessness into relief since her book includes interviews with her subjects and statements they made while the protest was unfolding.

Kessler, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, was stirred into action by the plan of leftist city officials, including Mayor Mike Signer and vice-mayor Wes Bellamy, to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from downtown Charlottesville. The city council, particularly its black members, had been pushing this action, and it seemed only a matter of time before Lee’s equestrian statue would come down from where it had stood majestically since 1924, a deed which finally happened on July 10, 2021. Kessler petitioned the city council for the right to assemble with likeminded comrades in a central location to protest the statue’s removal. Initially he enjoyed the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which later withdrew its assistance for explicitly ideological reasons.  

Kessler’s petition explained that he had been born in Charlottesville and was descended from Confederate veterans. His request was granted after numerous delays, and the demonstration took place as a Unite the Right rally, which, to complicate matters, also attracted vocal white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The rally became mixed with a Ku Klux Klan gathering that took place nearby, whose members hoped to use the Unite the Right demonstration for their own ends.

Network news treatment of Kessler as a “white nationalist” or “Nazi,” as Smith points out, was a shameful smear. But once Kessler announced in an interview with Katie Couric that his defense of the statue was a defense of “Western Civilization and European peoples” whose history “is being torn down,” leftist attacks were bound to follow.

My own interest is less in defending Kessler’s position (which may be a justified reaction to the antiwhite, Talibanesque left) or the unpleasant allies that he attracted than in noting the uses to which the organized left and its political and media allies turned the demonstration. Leftist activists—more numerous than their opponents—prevented Unite the Right demonstrators from entering Lee Park, despite their permit. Armed Antifa, Antiracist Action, and other leftist activist groups applied physical force to keep their right-wing enemies from carrying out what was truly intended as a peaceful protest;  The police who were on hand made no attempt to separate the demonstrators and counterdemonstrators—they were clearly ordered to stand down as the inevitable clashes broke out.

Most of the initial violence came from the leftists, the 2017 Heaphy Report, commissioned by the city of Charlottesville, explains. Yet the media blatantly lied about the peacefulness of the militant left and focused on the killing of a leftist activist by a supposed demonstrator, James Alex Fields, who ran his car into his victim. Fields was a diagnosed schizophrenic and was properly prosecuted with second-degree murder. But his victim, Heather Heyer, was a left-wing activist, not a detached bystander, and she was part of the militant counterdemonstration. Nor did Fields, a loner who wandered in from Maumee, Ohio, belong to the group organized by Kessler.

The media also distorted remarks made by those on the right about the incident. Donald Trump’s comments were twisted by Jake Tapper of CNN to mean that the president was referring to neo-Nazis as “very fine people.” Although this distortion was later exposed, I am still hearing people repeat the falsehood that Trump praised Nazis after the Charlottesville incident. Trump was saying something perfectly anodyne, namely that those who were demonstrating for or against the statue included decent people.

The sound and fury in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017 provided the left with a dress rehearsal for bigger confrontations, e.g., the summer of violent protests following the death of George Floyd and the depiction of the January 2021 Capitol break-in as an aborted “white supremacist” insurrection. Like the received explanation of what happened in Charlottesville, the media emphasized in these other cases the need to act decisively against those alleged white supremacists who were creating turmoil.

In the summer of “peaceful protests,” the left supposedly rose up spontaneously to strike back at “systemic racism.” According to the mainstream media and prominent Democrats, reports about organized leftist violence were entirely false. Because Antifa, we are assured, does not exist except as scattered groups of antiracist activists who were driven into action by the murderous right, they could not have wrought the havoc ascribed to them. The Jan. 6 incident was cited as further proof of right-wing mischief, and the leftists, who came to protest in Charlottesville against a white racist gathering, were allegedly just trying to forestall the horrors such as those that later occurred at the Capitol.  

Smith’s quotations from Kessler, Michael Hill of the League of the South, and other Unite the Right protesters confirm my impression that these people discovered they had walked into a trap. The lack of police protection, the presence of left activists carrying clubs, flamethrowers, and other menacing weapons as they approached Lee Park, and the one-sidedness with which the media reported what happened, all indicate that Unite the Right made a self-destructive move that the left would take advantage of in the years to come.        

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.

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bdm7e
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The distortion of Trump's remarks stimulated Biden's running in 2020. He appeared easily persuaded.
 
 

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Patricia C
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I don't know what to think. Much has been written about Kessler. He was a leftist activist until President Trump was elected and then suddenly he became a conservative activist. Everything I read from him at that time made it appear he had become quite the racist bigot. Given he had been a leftist, it certainly appeared he was a plant and the racist act was put on because he assumed Republicans to be bigots, given this is the caricature the liberal media describes. In addition to that, I read an online forum Kesller led before the events in Charlottesville. In it, he gave very specific instructions to the marchers (those who would be participating as marchers) and told them where to go, what kind of clothing to wear, where to buy a torch, etc. People noticed at the time the close resemblance between the marching "neo-Nazis" in Charlottesville and the marching neo-Nazis in Ukraine just before the beginning of their civil war, which was funded and organized by Democrats under Obama and the CIA... We know they were advertising for crisis actors in Charlottesville in the weeks running up to the event. I know they took two takes of the car crash scene. There were different cars on the street in each take and the crashing cars had different paint jobs (though of same make). I think there is more to the story than this, although she certainly depicts some of the injustices experienced by conservative protesters. This event was pivotal for the Dems in their effort to recast Trump supporters as neo-Nazis and has provided them with a constant reference point in smearing American people and in terrorizing minorities. I'm not buying the remake of Kessler as a true conservative. Maybe he did see the injustices somewhere along the way and was transformed, but there is nonetheless more to the story than is being told in this narrative.
 
 

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cspanjnky
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Watching a hand-held camera of a reporter who was following the marchers to their Charlottesville parking lot, she captured ANTIFA rock throwing goons who had hit a marcher in the head and he was down & bleeding from head. The others, which included women, could not make it to their autos. The boy, not a 'member' of marching group, had his car parked elsewhere and his attempt to help the marchers out of their full on attack by Antifa was ill conceived by a panicky young man (ruining his life.) But the goal of demonizing the right vs pointing to facts: Antifa's violence, foretold of the cities across America later. In Portland, the left managed to bring federal aid by attacking a Federal courthouse along the coast. I only learned about the recognized goal when a friend asked me why federal cops were attacking marchers in Portland. Sneaky method for Mainstream Media to misrepresent goons tossing kerosene filled balloons at courthouse windows & flashing commercial lasers blinding some of the Portland defenders. The chief of police in Portland was on Fox stating he had 40+ officers injured and needed help.
 
 

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cspanjnky
By the way, knowing that single truth (Antifa was not Black Lives Matter nor peaceful but bussed in to foment violence) because I quit watching Main Stream media, lost my decades long friendship with several women my age. We no longer speak. I would speak but I wasn't allowed to explain to them what I knew to be the truth vs propaganda. Re-release "Waco: Rules of Engagement"
wlmccuen
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Certainly, when confronting the Left on the streets these days, one should view them and the media, and possibly the police as well, as hostile. That is a given. Plan accordingly -- but PLAN. So that does not mean get discouraged and stay at home. Quite the contrary. And remember too, it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, with 20/20 hindsight, who never got in the game. What matters, in the end, is that you take the fight to the enemy, and not sit at home and hide behind cowardly rationalizations about "tactics.". We are in the hellacious mess we are now in because too many, especially the conservative "intellectuals", have sat on their flabby asses for too long. So grow a pair and get out there with your battle-flag, before it's too late and you and yours are in the gulag. Winston McCuen, Ph.D. (philosophy) South Carolina
 
 

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Frankly
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"Fields was a diagnosed schizophrenic and was properly prosecuted with second-degree murder." Really? I understand you may not be familiar with the case but it's hard for me to see Field's prosecution as anything but a travesty.
 
 

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Neanderthal Gardener
Fields had an AR-15 pointed at him by Dwayne Dixon behind him, a crowd of activists blocking the road in front of him. After backing up and thinking about it, which way would you have gone. I was there. https://flic.kr/p/WDx7YB
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