When white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to partake in a rally to “Unite the Right,” their stated purpose was to prevent the removal of a Confederate statue from a city park.
Violence, bloodshed, and tragedy soon followed as these white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters, and a man aligned with the alt-right movement plowed his car through a crowd of people, killing one and wounding several others.
And yet, it’s not surprising that conflict broke out in Charlottesville. The town’s decision to take down the statue of a Confederate war hero, General Robert E. Lee, represents exactly the sort of thing these white nationalists fear most of all.
As George Hawley, a political scientist, told CNN, these white nationalists feel persecuted by the changes taking place throughout the country.
“There is a sense that whites are under siege and being deliberately dispossessed by hostile elites who wish to usher in a new multicultural order,” said Hawley.
And at a May rally in Charlottesville, Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who popularized the term “alt-right,” captured this sentiment in remarks he made to the crowd.
“We will not be replaced from this park,” Spencer stated at the rally. “We will not be replaced from this world. Whites have a future. We have a future of power, of beauty, of expression,” he said.
In a time when Americans are embracing diversity more than ever before and the built-in privileges of being born a white male are starting to erode, these supremacists, most of whom are men, consider themselves the victims of this changing social landscape.
The decision to remove the Confederate statue in Charlottesville seems to be a symbolic confirmation of this change, with Virginia looking to distance itself from its own racist past. It’s for this reason that Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white nationalists came to Charlottesville to protest, and why tensions were high.
But it’s important to note another reason behind the tragic events which took place in Charlottesville over the weekend.
White supremacy groups seem to feel they have a friend and ally in President Trump. David Duke, a former grand wizard for the KKK, expressed as much to a reporter at the rally.
“We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke stated. “That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
Trump’s campaign promises to build a wall along the border, ban travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim-majority countries, and begin mass deportations of illegal immigrants have given encouragement to those who hold bigoted views.
And after the tragedy in Charlottesville, when Trump failed to rebuke white supremacists in particular for the events that transpired, while instead placing the blame on “many sides,” an alt-right website celebrated the news as though it were a kind of victory for its cause. In an atmosphere where white nationalists feel they have the sympathy of the president himself, acts of intolerance and even violent demonstrations like the one which occurred in Virginia should not come as a surprise.
White supremacists realize that the country is now heading in a direction which promises to deprive them of the advantages they once enjoyed. Many believe that Trump can reverse the trend and that furthermore, the president condones their efforts of resistance. What happened in Charlottesville seems to be the result of these various forces.
[Featured Image by Steve Helber/AP Images]