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Breaking In-Depth News

Understanding Charlottesville

in Virginia awakens national fears

Outraged by the local government’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, white nationalists and the Unite the Right groups held a torch-bearing rally and march in , VA, carrying guns and shouting Nazi slogans on Aug. 11-12.

By Saturday morning, counter-protesters were marching as well.

Within minutes, things turned violent.

At 11:28 am, the governor of Virginia declared that Charlottesville was in a local state of emergency due to the white supremacist attacks. At 1:42 pm, a speeding car driven by James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Ohio, killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville and injured 19 other unnamed counter-protesters.

On the night before the attack, white supremacists held a torchlight rally as they shouted racist chants about both Jews and African-Americans. This caused members of the left side to come out and confront the right protesters, providing an impetus for the violence and hatred on either side of the argument.

“Monuments are a form of art and art is subjective. I may look at that statue and see an advocate for racism, but someone else may look at it and see a beloved ancestor. It’s all about perspective,” senior Christian Taylor said.

On the other hand, U.S. History teacher Darren Diviak said, “The only reason they [historical, confederate figures] have statues erected in their honor is because of the South’s Jim Crow, segregationist and racist state governments of the 1890s to the 1950s. Although these statues are of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, etc., they have more to do with the heritage of racist Jim Crow laws than Civil War heritage. They have a place. They shouldn’t be destroyed. But like a ‘whites only sign,’ they should be put in a museum of some sort so we can learn from and avoid the racist mistakes of our unwise ancestors.”

A debate over statues, however, is ultimately revealing of the strained race relations below our nation’s surface.“For something like racism to just disappear in the next few years is impossible; hate is a terrible thing that’s so deeply rooted in people,because of the huge societal impact of slavery, that it’s hard to change. All we can do is call out what isn’t right and not allow ourselves to remain as bystanders when witnessing prejudiced acts,” Taylor said.

The people are taking action, not only in Charlottesville, but all across America as Littlefield-Lanham and Diviak described. “If there is a silver lining in this, it’s that people will get more engaged in the political system. People feel more of an obligation to stand up against this hate. It’s like people say, ‘It gets worse before it gets better,’” AP Government teacher, Daniel Fouts said.

UPDATE: President responds to neo-Nazi violence by blaming ‘many sides’

With racial and religious hatred being spewed at rallies from Virginia to California, there has been great deal of controversy surrounding President Donald ’s immediate response to recent violence. Following the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia — where a woman was killed by a neo-Nazi protester — President Trump reacted to the violence by placing an equal amount of blame on “many sides” of the conflict. He failed to initially denounce the Alt-Right organizations of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and last week repeated his claim that those who oppose the neo-Nazis are just as much to blame as the neo-Nazi marchers.

“They are trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,” Trump said during a speech addressing the removal of Confederate memorials. Choice of diction is incredibly important in such sensitive moments and a failure to condemn Alt-Right groups makes his stance seem startlingly supportive. Some of the white supremacist protesters even mentioned Donald Trump and used his past statements as validation for their actions. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was seen as a call to turn back American society to a more discriminatory and racist past.

“When he suggested that ‘both sides’ were at fault [for the violence in] Charlottesville, he seemed to be taking the position of moral relativism — the ethical position which argues that there are no objectively wrong moral acts. Instead, right and wrong is messy and dependent on circumstances. Many thought he needed to take a stand to condemn white supremacists as being objectively wrong,” social science teacher Daniel Fouts explained.

Maine West students have mainly expressed frustration and disappointment with the situation and the president’s response. “It’s just our duty to prevent those voices and opinions from being spread to others that breed racism and prejudice into the minds of our impressionable youth and ignorant people,” one student replied in a Westerner survey of 190 students.

Trump has jumped back and forth between labeling all protesters as bad, then criticizing only the neo-Nazis, and then reverting to recently stating that the neo-Nazis and the counter protestors are equally bad. Days after the death of one of the anti-nazi protesters, he said “hate and division, must stop; it must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection for each other.”

A day later, though, Trump went back to his original defense of the white supremacists of the “Alt-Right.” He said, “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of (Confederate general) Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Many people noted afterwards that although Washington and Jefferson held slaves at the time, they were indeed founders of the United States, whereas Lee’s job was to wage war against the United States.

“White supremacists now feel empowered by Mr. Trump, that somehow he thinks as they do. I don’t know that he does (have supremacists beliefs), but he definitely doesn’t do enough to persuade people from thinking that he doesn’t,” social science teacher Matthew McClure said. A Washington Post-ABC poll showed how Americans disapproved of Trump’s response to the white supremacists from who marched in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In the poll, only 28% of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s response to the violence.

In a Westerner survey of 190 students, 63 percent said they aren’t surprised by the existence of nationalist hate groups such as the KKK, as well as other neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. However, “I was actually surprised that they were able to organize an event so large,” one student said.

The sight of so many white supremacist marchers carrying torches and bearing weapons shook how Americans see themselves. “I didn’t realize so many people would support such a hateful and negative group, and it honestly made me very very disappointed and ashamed that I am white and a part of a race that predominantly leads something like that,” one student said in the Westerner survey.

The ongoing strife ignited by white supremacists could have global repercussions on America’s reputation. “I was raised in a country where we view America as the superior country out of all the modern countries. Learning about these factions somewhat breaks that picture of a perfect country,” a student reflected.

UPDATE: Freedom of Hate

Torches burned the sky as white nationalist protests echoed throughout the University of Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us; white lives matter; blood and soil.” All the while, though, the Ku Klux Klan’s (KKK), a white supremacist hate organization, right to protest has remained constitutionally protected.

Typically a peaceful college town, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, became the epicenter of an incendiary display of violence and hate that led to the death of one peace protestor and has shaken what many Americans presumed about racial equality in the United States. Many questions remain in the minds of Americans: “What motivated such hateful acts?”,“Will this only lead to more violence?” and most prominently, “In light of all the hate, how is it that the KKK’s right to protest has remained legally supported?”

As nearly half of the students in a Westerner survey of 190 responses agreed that the KKK should not have been allowed to protest, this question certainly proves to be pressing. To answer it, one must review the First Amendment of our constitution.

In short, the law grants free expression of ideas and speech to citizens of the United States, so long as it is not likely to incite or produce imminent law violations. It is under this nuanced exception that hate groups are allowed to chant for the death of others legally.

Director of Communications and Public Policy at American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Edwin Yohnka, recognizes the difficulties of upholding this legal distinction. In a Westerner interview, he explained,“What is legal is defined not by its content, but by whether or not there are accompanying direct threats and whether those threats lead to violence.”

In regard to the protests that weekend, the speech was deemed legal as the violence was not consequential of the hateful rhetoric. Although violence did occur, it did not result specifically from the speech. To the law, the difference between saying “Kill all Jews” and “Kill that Jew” can be the determining factor between innocence and imprisonment.

That said, many members responsible for upholding legal precedents, such as those at the ACLU in Virginia, are often placed in a dilemma between supporting their personal beliefs and their greater constitutional rights. It is for this reason that, after the events in Charlottesville, a board member of the ACLU in Virginia went so far as to resign, later posting to their Twitter that “I won’t be a fig leaf for the Nazis” and cover up their hatred.

Yet, despite this, the importance of maintaining legal precedent, according to Yohnka, prevails. He reasons that it is necessary to support the free expression of all non threatening speech even if it is hateful; if this type of speech is suppressed, he says, the laws that work to suppress it just might work to limit speech we perceive to be positive as well.

Helping to support these decisions, is the distinction that what is legal is not necessarily moral. “There’s the moral aspect and then there’s the legal aspect, and we’re talking about the legal aspect here. Legally, it’s acceptable. Morally, now that’s a totally different discussion,” AP Government teacher Daniel Fouts explained.

Though legal support groups may not be able to prevent hateful speech, they do possess the responsibility to make sure that they represent protests that are not likely to result in violence. This logic is the primary motivation behind the recent statement from the ACLU that they will no longer stand with hate groups seeking to march with weapons, as some of those in Charlottesville did.

As the political climate grows more polarized and more hateful speech is spread, Yohnka reflects that “We must be mindful of what particular groups are, what their history is and ensure that we know that their speech will not be met with violence. These are things that we have always done, just with more sensitivity now than before.”



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