Men and women whose torches illuminated their pale skin and khaki attire were the first participants in the long, downward spiral known as “Unite the Right.” What began Aug. 11 as a protest against the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville, Va., and a declaration of white power ended in militia-action with at least 35 injured and three deaths.
One of the event’s organizers, a white supremacist group known as the National Socialist Party (NSM), identified freedom of speech as the main motivator for its members’ actions. In fact, NSM’s Chief of Staff, Butch Urban, considers the affair a success and adamantly defends his people.
“You don’t see anyone in the movement asking to remove statues and monuments of Dr. King, Malcolm X or others. The underlying issue here and most important is the First Amendment and freedom of speech,” Urban said. “All the right did was defend itself.”
On the issue of Confederate statues, the majority of Americans do agree with Urban. A poll published on Aug. 16, 2017 by National Public Radio (NPR) found that 67 percent of citizens object to their removal. Still, even in the case of the Charlottesville Robert E. Lee monument, opposition hasn’t been enough to keep the statues up. At least 21 have been taken down since “Unite the Right.” As someone who supports their removal, sophomore Rachael Erickson believes museums are the best places for the figures. Although racism is a part of the nation’s history, Erickson is adamant society can and should move far away from that.
“I think [the desire for white domination] was definitely the mindset our founders had, or maybe they just didn’t think about anyone else ever becoming a part of America. However, in no way does that mean that we have to remain in that mindset, or that it was ever right,” Erickson said. “In the time since our country was created, the idea of who counts as an American has changed wildly, and we have to adapt the system that was created by our white founders to fit our current ideals and to benefit all equitably.”
Clearly, what happened during “Unite the Right” is not an isolated incident. Currently, there is increasing visibility and inclusivity of neo-nazis and other similar groups in popular culture. Dr. Larry Brown of the University of Missouri sites recent political activity as a possible cause for this development.
“[Heightened white supremacist involvement], in my opinion, has been prompted by this slow, persistent mainstreaming of their stated issues. They’ve been able to get into mainstream politics. Some of their agenda is showing up or some of their language starts showing up in traditional, partisan political events and then elections, campaigns, personalities,” Dr. Brown, who specializes in geography, said. “If folks in high places are going to be anti-immigrant, make racial comments and dismiss the importance of minorities, if that’s acceptable language and behavior in mainstream culture, [the white supremacists] been invited in.”
Similarly, Urban points to politics as evidence of a larger shift to white rights issues. Urban himself hopes that conservative influences continue to dominate the federal government.
“As for the election of President Trump, that speaks for itself. It tells you how pissed off the American people are. Prior to the Election, the [NSM saw] immense growth from all sides,” Urban said. “If Clinton was elected, it would have been the end of the United States as we know it. Trump bought time. Four years, hopefully eight years, to undo all the nonsense that’s been shoved down the throats of the American people over the last eight years.”
[quote]If Clinton was elected, it would have been the end of the United States as we know it. Trump bought time. Four years, hopefully eight years, to undo all the nonsense that’s been shoved down the throats of the American people over the last eight years.[/quote]
While evading the election of Hillary Clinton might have been a short-term goal of the NSM, the organization’s long-term vision includes an entirely caucasian nation. This belief is outlined on their website as follows: “Contrary to popular lies, America was not established as a multi-racial democracy. It was instead created and intended to be a White Republic. When you operate something in a way that it wasn’t designed to be operated, it won’t work and will fall apart. This is what has happened to America.”
Unlike NSM, The Creativity Movement (TCM) is a white supremacist religion that condemns Trump.
“Donald Trump made it crystal clear that he opposes pro-white people and views white people who advocate for the best interests of white people as extremely evil people. Needless to say, we disagree with this, but are not surprised that he would hold such views,” a spokesperson for the TCM said. “Yet the media portrays him as being sympathetic to white people who care about themselves. An outrageous lie.”
The NSM and TCM also differ in how they spread their message. TCM preaches that it is non-violent and denounced “Unite the Right” because it was “a confusing array of ideas that contract and are hostile to one another, leading to chaos,” and “Many of these are not even pro-White.” This contrasts greatly with the NSM’s goal to “fight” the “attack” against freedom. Dr. Brown sees this vision as one reason why some organizations, including the NSM, are eager to cause general unrest.
“One of those factors that comes up [when white supremacist activity increases], is [that] the general population responds in violent ways to these groups. In one sense, that’s exactly what they want. They want the demonstration of failure of our multicultural, pluralistic society,” Dr. Brown said. “They can turn that around and say ‘see, that’s what happens when things are out of control, people get violent.”
Dr. Brown’s analysis corresponds with Urban’s perspective on Charlottesville. Urban blamed the liberal side for the violence, denying any and all accusations of domestic terrorism on the conservative protesters’ part. He said the anti-fascists had “baseball bats, balloons filled with urine, bleach and acid [and] paint cans being used as flamethrowers.” If anything is clear, it’s that Charlottesville wasn’t the first violent racially or politically motivated incident, and it certainly won’t be the last.
“The fight has just begun. Where this will end is anyone’s guess,’’ Urban said. “ It’s not going to be pretty.”
For Dr. Brown, the key to progress isn’t fighting fire with fire, but rather taking a minute to understand the history and current mindsets of white rights activists. He thinks that differentiating between the distinct factions and developing a comprehensive strategy is important.
“They’re not all out there, ready to pick up a gun and march in the street, not ready to lynch someone. The risk is we don’t want to demonize white nationalists to the point that we’re doing the same thing that they do to non-whites,” Dr. Brown said. “Don’t play their game of victimization and aggressiveness.”