It’s been a month since the Charlottesville Riot. On August 12th, supposedly protesting the planned removal of a Robert E Lee statue, hundreds descended on the town in a torch lit rally, displaying an array of white nationalist insignia including swastikas. Chants included the Nazi maxim ‘Blood and Soil’, ‘White Lives Matter’ and ‘Jews will not replace us’. They clashed with counter protesters the next day, resulting in one death and multiple injuries.
‘The Unite the Right’ rally was, truthfully, a ‘Unite the Far Right’ rally. All the white supremacist groups coalesced: klansmen, neo-Nazis, neo-confederates and, most notably, adherents of the burgeoning alt right movement.
Only one particular cohort seemed missing – skinheads. The eponymous hairdo and doc martins, it seems, have been replaced by the khakis and white polos of the new generation’s racists. Skinheads, as a distinct subculture, have largely died out, succeeded by the far more savvy and successful alt right, a movement of unprecedented growth, owing to its ‘softened’ and intellectualised image.
The Charlottesville rally showed their strength – these were not merely keyboard warriors, but a numerous and organised movement, capable of putting boots on the ground.
I argue the march backfired.
Lee Statues: Charlottesville prompted the immediate removal of the Lee statue, along with confederate monuments across the US.
- August 15th: Demonstrators illegally remove the courthouse Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, North Carolina.
- August 16th: Baltimore authorities remove the city’s Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee Statues.
- August 19th: The Lee monument at Duke University is removed.
- September 18th: Dallas removes the Lee Statue in the city park.
The removal of confederate monuments in the south was already a growing trend in 2017. The ugly display of hate at Charlottesville only quickened the pace by authorities all too eager to distance themselves from the Old South’s white supremacist legacy.
Alt Right: At Charlottesville the alt right’s careful cultivation of a refined, accessible white nationalist movement was decimated. The Nazi imagery, the violence and Heather Heyer’s murder showed the movement’s true colours (or at least that off its extremist wing). These were not simple patriots espousing positive white identity but bigots of a familiar stripe, whose message is little different from the neo-Nazis they marched alongside.
Public opinion has hardened against the alt right. Whilst the media’s reaction may strengthen their core, few wish to associate with hard-core racists and neo-Nazis. The Charlotesville protesters was widely condemned; by religious leaders, celebrities, politicians, even Angela Merkel. Anti-fascist rallies followed in Berkley, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Daily Stormer and the Right Stuff, pages representing the alt right’s extremist wing, have since been exiled to the dark web. A follow up ‘free speech’ rally in Boston was inundated by counter protesters.
Donald Trump – After the death of Heather Heyer and President Trump’s ‘many sides’ comments, the media had a field day. Trump received the most flak since last’s years ‘pussygate’ scandal. His manufacturing council dissolved and Steve Bannon – Trump’s link to the alt right, resigned. Pundits were quick to note the marchers’ approval of Trump’s words.
Donald Trump is incapable of denouncing anyone who praises him (Trump-Pence signs appeared at the rally), or hiding his true feelings, so his comments were not surprising. Nevertheless, the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a bed of nails; his response to Charlottesville march will ultimately blow over.
One month on, the shock reaction and public frenzy to the march has died down. Many quietly agree that both sides were to blame, especially given Antifa’s dubious and violent track record. Counter protesters may have started the violence, it is true, but when one side’s ranks espouse a genocidal ideology and the other merely react, recognising the greater evil should not be difficult.
What will come of the alt right, and their bubbling anger, remains to be seen.