What You Need to Know About What Happened in Charlottesville
Reporting by Elena Sheppard.
“How can this be 2017?” “Is this really our country?”
We’ve seen the images, we’ve felt the anger, and we’ve all likely even asked ourselves those two questions, “How can this be 2017?” and “Is this really our country?” But this is 2017 and this is the United States, so it’s imperative that we pay attention to what happened last weekend in Charlottesville as well as the disastrous and disturbing aftermath.
What happened was this: Last Friday night, groups of white supremacists descended upon the University of Virginia campus. They held flaming tiki torches and marched across the college campus chanting “white lives matter,” and “blood and soil,” and “Jew will not replace us.” The images from that night have now gone viral.
The reason the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Klu Klux Klan members were in Charlottesville in such large numbers was due to a planned Unite the Right rally, organized in protest of the removal of a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee which held a prominent place in the city.
While the Unite the Right rally began filling the streets, counter-protestors also came out and before long the protests turned violent and even deadly.
After police had attempted to disperse the demonstrations, a 20-year-old driver, who we now know to be named James Alex Fields Jr., plowed his car into the crowds of people, injuring 19 and killing a 32-year-old counter-protestor named Heather Heyer. A few hours later, two Virginia state police officers responding to the scene were killed in a helicopter crash. Fields was arrested shortly after the crash and he is set to be arraigned on Monday.
Early on Saturday morning the state’s governor Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency saying, “all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth.”
When the country finally heard from the president at the end of the day, he did not have such decisive words for the protestors. Initially, his statement was this: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”
The backlash to the president’s remarks was swift. By equating white supremacists to the other protesters in Charlottesville, Trump, in essence, said that white nationalism is ok in America. The flagrant comparison did not slip by unnoticed.
As the hours ticked by, the pressure for him to revise his statement become louder and stronger. Americans from all sides of the aisle demanded more.
On Monday, Trump delivered an address — read from a teleprompter — which sounded far more presidential. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence — it has no place in America,” he said.
While many felt that it was too little too late, there was a sense of relief that the president had said what he should have initially said on Saturday.
But then on Tuesday, the president undid even the marginal good he had done the day before. In a press conference from Trump Tower, he went completely off book, expressing what many believe to be his actual thoughts, expressing the idea that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are only as dangerous as, what he called, the “alt-left.” He went far as to call the alt-left the instigators of the violence in Charlottesville. He even compared George Washington to Robert E. Lee citing their impact on America as equitable.
Quickly after that what little support there was around the president, eroded. CEOs on the president’s manufacturing council resigned. Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company summed up her reasons for resignation rather well, “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the President should have been — and still needs to be — unambiguous on that point.”
As more CEOs continued to drop out, Trump tweeted that he was canceling both the Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forums. Additionally, the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman murdered in Charlottesville, who had praised Trump’s Monday statement, said that she had no interest in ever speaking to him after what he said on Wednesday. It should be noted that David Duke, the former leader of the KKK, praised what President Trump said.
Since Wednesday, favor for the president has continued to fall and there are reports from within the White House that top aides don’t know how the president will recover from this disaster.
To add to the absolutely wild nature of the week, on Friday it was announced that the president’s White House Chief strategist, and a champion of the white supremacists, Steve Bannon, was leaving his role in the administration.
Who knows what will happen next; odds are it will be entirely unpredictable.