People collecting to oppose Unite the Right presentation state they were struck with pepper spray and lighter fluid in clash on University of Virginia school
Hundreds of reactionary demonstrators wielded torches as they progressed to the University of Virginia school in Charlottesville on Friday night and apparently assaulted a much smaller sized group of counter-protesters who had actually connected arms around a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
Starting at a community park less than a mile away, alt-right protesters who have actually collected for the weekend Unite the Right rally marched in a long column over the brief range to the school, shouting mottos like You will not change us and Blood and soil. When the marchers reached and surrounded the counter-protesters there was a brief spoken conflict, #peeee
. Counter-protesters stated they were then assaulted with swung torches, pepper spray and lighter fluid.
The long read: When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the US for Istanbul and began to realise that Americans will never understand their own country until they see it as the rest of the world does
My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.
When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.
For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for ones own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.
Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we dont become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still dont know myself.
I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory.
Most of my friends parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in the City, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)
We were all patriotic, but I cant even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I dont remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didnt stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.
We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens than a country with people in it.
African American star Robeson built his singing career in the teeth of racism in the early 1900s. But his radicalism was spurred on in Britain by a chance meeting with a group of Welsh miners
Paul Robeson possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed stage actor. He could sing in more than 20 different languages; he held a law degree; he won prizes for oratory. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest American footballer of his generation. But he was also a political activist, who, in the 1930s and 1940s, exerted an influence comparable to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in a later era.
The son of an escaped slave, Robeson built his career despite the segregation of the Jim Crow laws basically, an American apartheid system that controlled every aspect of African American life. He came to London with his wife Eslanda known as Essie partly to escape the crushing racism of his homeland. Yet later in life he always insisted that he became a radical as much because of his experiences in Britain as in America. In particular, he developed a deep bond with the labour movement particularly with the miners of Wales. That was why, in 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia to visit the landscape that shaped Robesons politics.
Pontypridd was a village carved out of stone. Grey terraced cottages, grey cobbled streets, and an ancient grey bridge arching across the River Taff.
The sky was slate, too, a stark contrast with the surrounding hills, which were streaked with seasonal russet, teal and laurel.
I was accustomed to towns that sprawled, as white settlers stretched themselves out to occupy a newly colonised land. Pontypridd, I realised, huddled. Its pubs and churches and old-fashioned stores were clutched tightly in the valley, in a cosy snugness that left me feeling a long way from home. Id come here to see Beverley Humphreys, a singer and the host of Beverleys World of Music on BBC Wales.
I have a strong feeling that we might meet in October! shed written, when Id emailed her about the Paul Robeson exhibition she was organising. I know from personal experience that once you start delving into Paul Robesons life, he just wont leave you alone.
In that correspondence, shed described Pontypridd as the ideal place to grasp Pauls rich relationship with Wales and its people. I knew that, in the winter of 1929, Paul had been returning from a matinee performance of Show Boat [in London] when he heard male voices wafting from the street. He stopped, startled by the perfect harmonisation and then by the realisation that the singers, when they came into view, were working men, carrying protest banners as they sang.
By accident, hed encountered a party of Welsh miners from the Rhondda valley. They were stragglers from the great working-class army routed during what the poet Idris Davies called the summer of soups and speeches the general strike of 1926. Blacklisted by their employers after the unions defeat, they had walked all the way to London searching for ways to feed their families. By then, Robesons stardom and wealth were sufficient to insulate him from the immiseration facing many British workers, as the industrialised world sank into the economic downturn known as the Great Depression.
Can national socialism, repackaged as white identity politics, earn votes in rural counties that voted for Trump?
When the men in black walked into her restaurant one Friday morning and sat at the round table in the corner, Brittany Porter knew exactly what they were.
Pale, skittish, aggressively tattooed, they wore black T-shirts with a cryptic white logo over their hearts. One had a razor inked along his left jaw and two SS lightning bolts dripping next to his eye like a double set of tears. One wore a handgun on his hip.
Porter went to the table, smiled and asked what they wanted. It was just after 8am. Two of the neo-Nazis ordered chicken nuggets.
On Facebook the night before, Porter read about the group of racists who were coming to eastern Kentucky to hold a rally. They had chosen an economically struggling stretch of coal country with a population that was 98% white and that had voted 80% for Trump. In their propaganda videos, the neo-Nazi leaders had talked about the scourge of drug addiction in Pike County.
At 30, Porter knew Pike Countys problems. She herself was a recovered addict, as was her friend Chrissy Wooton, another waitress at the restaurant. Neither of them trusted either political party. Wooton, whose husband is a coal miner, had voted for Trump. Porter had not.
Together, they discussed whether they should start the day by accidentally pouring coffee into the neo-Nazis laps.
The neo-Nazis were on their way to Whitesburg, Kentucky, where they had secured a private piece of land in the woods to hold a weekend summit with a coalition of other white nationalist groups. At the table, there were several members of the Traditionalist Workers party, including Jason, a sallow musician in a black-metal punk band who left New York City to move to a mostly white community in Indiana; Scott, who had recently been kicked out of an Irish pub in Kentucky for celebrating Hitlers birthday; and Gabe, diffident and a little shy, with long eyelashes and the white power tattoos on his cheek.
Porter and Wooton watched from distance, swooping in now and then to refill the coffee cups. But they were too curious to stay quiet. Porter said people on Facebook were talking a bunch of crap. They were saying that the group was the Ku Klux Klan.
Wooton asked again more bluntly: Are you guys KKK?
The event the men were attending did, in fact, have KKK members on the list of potential guests. But the men at the table laughed and grinned. They were a political party, Matthew Heimbach, the groups 26-year-old leader, explained gently. Our motto is faith, family and folk, he said. Heimbach was the most famous man at the table: the one who was being sued for shoving and shouting at a young black protester at a Donald Trump campaign rally last March, and who had recently filed legal papers saying that Trump, who had reacted to the protesters by shouting Get em out of here!, should be held responsible for his behavior.
Heimbach was wearing the same black T-shirt, with his partys logo, as the other men, but he had a big cross around his neck and the cheerful bearing of a youth pastor: burly, bearded, bouncy with enthusiasm. One Kentucky local who watched a propaganda video Heimbach made had been perplexed that he looked like a teddy bear.
Their political party had been misrepresented, Heimbach explained to the waitresses. Theyre not the KKK. Theyre focused on family and faith and local control, on fighting the international corporations who came into Appalachia and took all the profits from Kentuckys coal. Heimbach did not try to sell the waitresses on his plan for a white ethno-state, his conviction that the Holocaust did not happen, his belief in thousands of years of Jewish conspiracy. He just talked about family struggles and immigrants taking jobs and hurting workers and how white Americans needed more representation.
Wooton, who had voted for Trump, was responding enthusiastically. She was furious at the lack of government response to the opioid addiction crisis and skeptical of establishment politicians. Her husband, a coal miner, had lost his job under Obama and been hired again three days after Trumps inauguration. Wooton came back to the table repeatedly to press Heimbach for more answers, explaining her manager was still calling him a racist. She asked if Heimbach was willing to work with people of other races. He said of course he was. He talked about the importance of black communities making decisions for themselves, about how black policemen might be better at policing black neighborhoods. Wooton agreed and agreed again.
Talking to Wooton, Heimbach acted like a local politician: polite, a little longwinded, but genuinely passionate. He was not Richard Spencer, the clean-cut, rich-boy racist who got punched in the face at Trumps inauguration. He was not a ranting internet troll. He was a small-town kid who put himself through college selling custom wardrobe tidying systems, and now he was using those skills trying to sell fascism to the American people.
Heimbachs Pike County trip was part of his broader preparation for 2018, when the party was planning to field six candidates in local elections for school board, county council and other positions in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas. All the candidates will be under 30, all open white nationalists, though they plan to focus their campaigns on more local issues.
Wooton kept coming back with more questions, but it was clear that she liked much of what she she was hearing. When she left the table, Heimbach grinned triumphantly at his group; it seemed he was attracting some local support.
Stepping from the shadows
White supremacists and neo-Nazis complain endlessly about media lies, and yet no one is more eager to pick up the phone than Heimbach and other extremist leaders. Getting attention even negative attention helps them recruit and inch toward the mainstream.
Analysts from the Data & Society Research Institute concluded the far right has risen to new prominence this past year in part by attention hacking, manipulating the conventions of mainstream news. Members of the alt-right, a mixed group of racists, nationalists, antisemites and misogynists, understand that many news stories are built on a framework of conflict and outrage, fueled by the power of a shocking image or the lure of a supposedly telling contrast. The medias dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable, its report said.
People who have had personal run-ins with Heimbach who have experienced him in action say the media should not simply ignore his activities. Instead of glamorizing them or portraying them as cartoonish monsters, scrutiny should attempt to reveal their impact.
However, one anti-fascist observed, it doesnt matter if the news coverage attempts to be negative neo-Nazis will still try to recruit people in the comments section underneath.
Measured in numbers, white nationalists and neo-Nazis remain the fringe of the fringe. Last years BronyCon, the annual conference of grown men who take an ironic fascination in the cartoon My Little Pony, attracted 7,600 people. Anthrocon, a convention of furries who like to do fun things while wearing fuzzy, full-body animal costumes, attracted more than 7,000. The Kentucky neo-Nazi summit in April attracted about 150 people, about 75 of them members of the Traditionalist Worker party. Heimbach claims that his party has 600 dues-paying members nationwide. They do not call themselves Nazis. Heimbach said the term Nazi is a slur, and that he draws inspiration from many fascist and national socialist regimes, not just Germanys.
Heimbach said being labeled a Nazi would undermine his attempt to educate the American people about what national socialism truly is, claiming it invokes every lie and every over-the-top media creation of the last 72 years [since 1945].
Ryan Lenz, an analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks American hate groups, sees no justification for his argument. It is fair to label Heimbach a Nazi because he is an avowed national socialist, Holocaust denier and antisemite.
In this context, Nazi is not a slur. Its not an attack. Its an accurate description, he said.
Neo-Nazi activism in America has been undermined for decades by what both extremist leaders and hate group monitors describe as incredibly childish infighting. Neo-Nazis have squabbled over their religious differences (some are Christian; others are pagans, some worshipping the Norse god Odin; one or two, a Neo-Nazi leader claimed, are even Buddhist), over their uniform and symbol choices, over which neo-Nazi stole which other neo-Nazis girlfriend.
Most of these people are malignant contrarians who have a lot of loyalty and trust issues, said Lenz.
But Trumps rise to power has encouraged the extremists to try to bridge their divides. Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan leaders were jubilant over an openly xenophobic, politically incorrect presidential candidate who promised to stop illegal immigration and enact a Muslim ban and they have pursued news coverage, attracting headlines and staging dramatic photos. In May, a number of different groups met in front of a threatened Confederate monument and set garden torches on fire. In the photos, shared around the world, a mass of shadowy figures and flames made for a startling image.