Wednesday, November 22, 2017
 
Why Did Nazis Come to Charlottesville? Short Answer: Richard Spencer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA Aug. 14 (DPI) – The weekend tragedy here – in which a White Nationalist rally left a counter-protester and two police officers dead and many other people injured – has echoed worldwide, the latest harsh reminder that 2017 America has a serious problem of racist groups willing to resort to violence and terror.

The press has focused on many currents: Trump’s response to the incident, his role in inciting racist behavior generally, how local law enforcement handled the chaos, as well as the breadth and depth of the shadowy White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi movement, which attracted perhaps 250 to Charlottesville, according to The Washington Post.

But one question not clearly answered: Why did this kind of protest and subsequent violence happen in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia and about 60,000 people, who are mostly well educated and progressive-minded? (Editor’s Note: Digital Press International’s parent company, Newbridge Media, is based in Charlottesville. The site of the helicopter crash that killed two state policemen is about a mile from our office.)

The New York Times published an Op-Ed by a UVA faculty member headlined “Why The Nazis Came to Charlottesville” which recalls the historic setting of the town, as well as the yearlong controversy over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a downtown square. That controversy continues, since a judge has for now overturned a decision by the town council to relocate the statue. Other cities, particularly in the South, face similar choices amid changing attitudes and sentiments about Civil War-era monuments.

The UVA faculty member, Siva Vaidhyanathan,  didn’t mention the role of 39-year-old Richard B. Spencer, a well-educated racist antagonist who seems to have gained some credibility in so-called Alt-right circles. Spencer is a graduate of UVA, lives in Northern Virginia, and by pushing the send button to followers in recent weeks helped organize and draw crowds to at least two protests in Charlottesville, including this weekend’s.

In effect, Spencer knew the turf, and he was clearly eager to take on his left-wing enemies from his undergraduate days, those who tormented him back when he was simply an outspoken conservative college student.  Since then, his views have clearly hardened, as his public pronouncements reveal a virulent racism.

(A second organizer was a UVA grad: 34-year-old Jason Kessler describes himself as an “activist and author” but by all accounts he doesn’t have the following that Spencer has.)

Spencer is a media-savvy manipulator and now an avowed anti-Semite and White Nationalist. Given his background, making Charlottesville a battleground was an easy call for Spencer: For one thing, he knew he could draw major media, given the proximity to Washington, a two-hour drive. Moreover, he could count on an easier-to-challenge police force in Charlottesville, whose ranks have a frequently adversarial relationship with the students at the University and who often feel unfairly maligned. By contrast, DC protests, with their permits, restrictions and stringent enforcement by layers of police forces, are much harder and more expensive to pull off.

Finally, town officials last week had decided to allow the racist protesters to occupy only a larger park, located a few miles north of both University grounds and downtown. But apparently a federal judge ruled against the town, and allowed the hate groups not only to gather wherever they wanted. The move shocked the governor, who said it contributed to the unrest and violence.  In any case Spencer and his organization were reportedly behind the court challenge that led to the judge’s ruling.

One remarkable fact about the Saturday violence: No one was shot, even as photos revealed several protesters carrying arms, including an automatic weapon.  The dead counter-protester, a 32-year-old local paralegal, was killed when a 20-year-old Ohio man – an avowed Nazi sympathizer – drove his car into a crowd. He injured about 18 others, some seriously.

With the violence and death, there may be sufficient cause now to expel Spencer and his cohorts for good from Charlottesville:  After all, it’s unlikely that any judge or town council would allow such protesters to legally protest again anytime soon.  And as for General Lee? Well, after this weekend, it’s safe to say that he’s history.

 

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