Once a scenic college town, Charlottesville, Virginia has been etched into the minds of many Americans. The riots that occurred throughout the past week have culminated in violence and deep divisions across racial and political lines. Even more worrisome to many Americans is the President’s ambiguity in response to the carnage in Charlottesville.
The protests that have rocked the nation are not the first to occur in Charlottesville this year, but none of the previous attempts devolved into such barbarous violence. On Feb. 6, 2017, the City Council of Charlottesville voted three-to-two to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and voted unanimously to rename the home of the statue to Emancipation Park instead of Lee Park. No one could have expected what would come next.
On May 13, the first notable protest occurred when Richard Spencer led a group of alt-right-affiliated, torch bearing protesters through Charlottesville’s newly named Emancipation Park. While it may have offended many residents, it is important to note that this protest was entirely peaceful and did not end in violence and there was not a single arrest.
The next major protest occurred when roughly 50 members of the Loyal White Knights, a North Carolina KKK group, descended upon Charlottesville on July 8 to “support Southern heritage.” The Klansmen were met with the resistance of approximately 1,000 counter-protesters, and police quickly ended the protest. This protest was much larger than the previous and required the deployment of tear gas when several counter-protesters would not vacate. There was no significant violence, although 23 people (mostly counter-protesters) were arrested.
The riots that baffled the nation occurred on Aug. 12. Massive fights broke out throughout the city, leaving an unknown number of people injured. The most shocking act of violence occurred when a “Unite the Right” protester drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. What happened in Charlottesville served as a reminder that to many, hate is only a cracked facade away from surfacing, and to others as validation that their rights, history and way of life are being disparaged and formally erased.
To many, President Trump and his responses to this violence and brutality have been anything but reassuring. The same day of the violence, President Trump gave a live press conference from his working vacation at one of his resorts in Bedminster, New Jersey. He reassured many Americans with comments such as “above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion, or political party, we are all Americans first.”
However, many observers were dissatisfied when he blamed “many sides” for the violence, rather than strictly blaming the right-wing coalition. The main criticism lodged against President Trump is that his refusal to denounce groups of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists have boosted their morale and granted them legitimacy. It is also believed by his detractors that he did not denounce these specific groups because they form a part of his base of loyal supporters.
On Aug. 14, President Trump held another press conference two days later to reaffirm his feelings about the matter, in which he declared “racism is evil.” He also condemned the groups he previously didn’t address, saying “those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” Consistency has never been a trait of the Trump Administration.
Flanked by the Treasury and Transportation Secretaries, Aug. 15, was an opportunity for President Trump to make a bold policy speech, marking his Administration’s plans for nation wide infrastructure projects, buying American products and other matters of fiscal policy. However, during questions with reporters, President Trump did little to avoid the controversy surrounding his comments on the violence in Charlottesville. In response to one question, President Trump brought up “the alt-left,” in an apparent reference to the counter-protesters, and said that “you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was very violent.” At another point, the President lashed out at the media during the frenzy of questions: “wait a minute, I’m not finished – I’m not finished, fake news.”
The President’s comments in the spontaneity of a press conference seem to contradict his message from the week earlier, which is disturbing to most Americans. Many truly do not feel like they know where the President stands in matters of governing a civil society. The aftermath of these events has shaken the White House to the core, spurring from negative media coverage, mass resignations from Administration-sponsored committees, and yet another key figure, Steve Bannon, is gone from the ranks. The protests that rattled the country last week spared none, not even the President.