I haven’t found a simple visual chronology of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, 12 August. So I made one.
The general context: The rally on Saturday was organised by white supremacists and its main theme was to «unite the right». In other words, it was a bid by the far-right to be accepted by the mainstream right-wing of the US.
White supremacists protested the removal of the Robert E. Lee Sculpture in the city. Lee commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and, ultimately, all Confederate forces in the American Civil War against the Union. Himself a slave owner, Lee opposed abolition the abolition of slavery. Some ideologues deny this and portray Lee as a noble person. This is important to understand their ideology, but factually that’s untrue.
So, without further ado, here’s the chronology. Let it be said: There are clear signs that this was on the brink of ending even deadlier than it already did.
|Tensions increased Friday evening already, when around 100 white supremacists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia while chanting «white lives matter»; «you will not replace us»; «Jews will not replace us»; «anti-Black»; and the Nazi-slogan «blood and soil». They were giving Nazi salutes, too. (All of this is clearly apparent here and here.) The protesters encircled a statue of Thomas Jefferson where a small group of counter-protesters had linked arms. Soon violence erupted, including the use of pepper sprays. White supremacist also used their tiki torches as weapons.
The police chose not to separate the two protests. As one person said: «Police are nowhere to be found.» After some delay, they eventually did break up the protests. This is a theme we shall see again.
|Let’s set the scene for Saturday. The white supremacists had a permit to demonstrate at the Emancipation Park (formerly named Lee Park), marked by a red circle. The police put up barriers marked in green.
Apparently there was confusion as to how the white supremacists would get there, as the «Washington Post» reports. Police thought the protesters would enter from the north via E Jefferson St (dotted red arrows). Protesters said they took E Market St (normal red arrows), because access from the north was blocked.
Counter-protesters obtained permits for McGuffey Park and Justice Park (formerly Jackson Park), marked in blue. However, they were all over the place — particularly at E Market St (blue hatched area). According to Charlottesville spokeswoman Miriam I. Dickler: «People do not need a permit to enter a public park, even when another event is scheduled», and the same goes for «streets or sidewalks adjacent to or outside the park».
It’s at the corner of E Market St and 2nd St NE (yellow circle) where the first violence of the day erupts.
|Footage clearly shows that counter-protesters were attempting to block access to Emancipation Park at the corner of E Market St and 2nd St NE. White supremacists had none of it and charged at them with shields and sticks. So, again, the police let two determined groups of people clash without buffer.
This was at the corner of E Market St and 2nd St NE. Contrary to the right-wing narrative, footage shot just one corner further at E Market St and 1st St NE in Vice’s «Race and Terror» clearly shows that other white supremacists were inside the park already by around 10.30 a.m. So it must have been possible to access the park, going around the counter-protesters blockade.
There is yet another angle of this initial confrontation by «Voice of America».
|You’ll see that, besides the terror attack, violence mostly erupted at E Market St and 2nd St NE and later further up E Market St. As far as I can see, the confrontation at the corner lasted for well over an hour until 11:40 a.m. (Footage). I haven’t seen a single video showing police separating the two groups.
An estimated 500 protesters and more than a thousand counter-protesters were at the site. According to the city (CNN), at least 14 people were injured in street brawls.
|There was a private militia of 32 men present. They didn’t engage in any violence. Still, it’s noteworthy that they wore military-grade weaponry and no riot control gear — which, if under pressure, is a recipe for disaster. More info on them in this piece by The Guardian.|
|At about 11:40 a.m., shortly before the rally and the speeches at Emancipation Park were scheduled to begin, Virginia State Police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly via megaphones, and riot police pushed the white supremacists out of the park (footage), resulting in a very chaotic situation. Following this, a hard core of about 100 far-right protesters moved to McIntire Park (yellow circle) about 3 km away. ( Wikipedia has sound sources on that.)|
|As protesters dispersed at Emancipation Park, a group of white supremacists walked back up E Market St. They were followed by counter-protesters who carried sticks and clearly threatened them.
It was after three blocks of shouting matches, that violence ensued and the scene — which was all over the news — of the fight at the Public Parking Garage happened. Footage of ABC News here. Wounded person being treated afterwards here.
One white supremacist pulled a gun. Later police drew guns too. No shots are fired, but you can see the potential for lethal violence was there.
|Apparently there were still people with equipment back at Emancipation Park. The Vice team captured one organiser (if you know who this is, please comment) threatening the police: «(Our guys at Emancipation Park) are told (by police) they aren’t allowed a vehicle come through and pick them up. I’m about to send at least 200 people with guns to go get them out if you guys do not get our people out.»
This happened after driving to McIntire Park, so I’m guessing it must have been around 12.30 p.m. Again, it didn’t materialise, but the potential for lethal violence is deeply troubling.
|After the aborted rally, at 1:45 p.m., a white supremacist deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at Water ST E and 4th St SE. He injured 20 people. One 32-year-old later died at the hospital. (Video with all perspektives)
As far as I know, this terror attack seems to have been the last violent act of the day.
Analysis / Conclusion
To talk intelligently about this event, it makes sense to distinguish between the chaotic scenes around the rally and then the car attack.
- The car attack clearly amounted to a white supremacist terror attack and it should be easy to condemn it as such.
- Strictly talking about the rally, the white supremacists had a constitutional right to protest and a permit to do so. Counter-protesters clearly sought to violate this right by blocking access to the park at E Market St and 2nd St NE.
- At the rally, there was indeed violence on both sides — including the use of pepper sprays, bats and shields. In terms of gear, the white supremacists generally had more robust equipment. As far as I’ve seen, people employed non-lethal means of violence.
- The violence at the rally (not the terror attack), to me, seems like a policing failure: At such extremist rallies, violent clashes have to be expected. A Neonazi and a Antifa protester will invariably attempt to smash each other’s heads in. So I think it was unwise not to separate white supremacists and counter-protesters from the beginning. If there was a lack of resources, then this would be a political failure to provide these resources.
This is corroborated in by Claire G. Gastanaga’s statement, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia: «The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence. I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an ‹unlawful assembly› and clear the area.»
- The terror attack isn’t the fault of the police. The truth of the matter is that it’s pretty much impossible to protect soft targets against low-cost terrorism such as car attacks.
- Two scenes that don’t receive enough attention, in my opinion: That a white supremacist threatened to send «at least 200 men with guns» into the city centre, and that multiple people drew their guns at the car park. These incidents could have easily resulted in more deaths.
I hope you find this review helpful. Don’t hesitate to comment below.
Update 27. August 2017: I added a more detailed map based on a report by the «Washington Post».