This weekend there was a terrorist attack in the heart of America–32-year-old activist Heather Hayes was killed when a white nationalist plowed his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters, and 19 others were injured. Armed militiamen took to the streets chanting racist slogans, menacing citizens with guns, and the police stood by and watched. Black men were beaten in the streets by white men holding signs emblazoned with racial epithets.
When the white men participating in demonstrations where they held torches, held up their hands in a nazi salute and chanted racist slogans were identified and called out for their actions on social media they were horrified, threatening to sue, claiming their First Amendment rights should protect them from backlash–as if they had received a playbook from some very powerful person with a tendency to sue and who routinely refuses to take responsibility for the vitriol that spills out of his mouth.
When he was finally roused from his vacation, the President of the United States acted as if there had been a bar fight–not a massive terrorist action. The violence in Charlottesville is obviously rooted in historical tensions and festering racism at the heart of America, but it is also the culmination of years of fear mongering and racism perpetrated by Donald Trump–from his birtherism to his push as president to undo the changes implemented by the Justice Department under Obama to combat systemic racism in the police force, Trump has made it clear he stands for a culture fueled by fear and bigotry.
“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,” Trump said–in a statement that paled in comparison to his many attacks on various celebrities and political rivals. Trump was blasted by politicians and media outlets for not naming neo-nazis or members of the so-called alt-right for the violence.
On Monday, Trump launched a Twitter attack on prominent black CEO Ken Frazier of Merck and Co. pharmaceuticals after Frazier resigned from the president’s manufacturing council in protest of Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Trump tweeted.
The tweet only fueled pressure on Trump to issue a firmer statement–so nearly 48 hours after the violence the president tried again, saying: “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
The violence and death in Charlottesville, Va. this weekend serves as a reminder that after hundreds of years and multiple generations, some whites are still terrified that the people their ancestors once enslaved are interested in revenge.
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free,” said Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian and founding father.
Jefferson knew that the white colonial middle class had revolted against Britain for offenses that pale in comparison to what America actually did to slaves. If the founding fathers went to war over unfair taxation what would a people do in reaction to actual slavery?
Context and nuance isn’t something white nationalists or neo-nazis care to understand–they are so insecure in their place in the this country that they are terrified by groups like Black Lives Matter that are pushing for justice in the many systems that have been corrupted by racism.
Black America is not at white America’s doorstep screaming for vengeance–after hundreds of years of injustice, groups like Black Lives Matter are pushing for change, not retribution. And if there is a just God, or justice, they certainly are entitled to be.
Why are white nationalists worked into a furor now? They “endured” eight years of a black president all while they were being told by their Republican legislators that the president wasn’t even a citizen. They were emboldened by Trump’s campaign where he encouraged racial stereotypes and name calling. And now they have a president who not only agrees with them, retweets them and puts them into powerful positions in his administration, but who needs them if he hopes to win office again.
Neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer praised Trump’s initial comments. “He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us,” wrote Andrew Anglin, the founder of the site. “No condemnation at all,” Anglin continued. “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
This country will be struggling with how to remove hatred, racism and bias from our societal and governmental institutions for the foreseeable future. To deny that there is a new element at play–an accelerant to the violence that took place in Charlottesville–would be foolish. It is blindingly clear that the President of the United States is so weak, self-centered, ego-driven and unscrupulous that he will continue to ride the wave of hatred he rode into the White House until the country is ablaze.