SNEAK PREVIEW: ‘I Am Worthier Than You’

I AM WORTHIER THAN YOU front cover

Sneak preview of the forthcoming book I Am Worthier Than You: Racism in the United States and its Multidimensional Effects by Marcelle Bartolo-Abela:

(A section from Chapter 2):

2017 – Blood and Soil! Never Again!

The Charlottesville Rally

On August 12, 2017, a Unite the Right rally led by a White nationalist, Jason Kessler, took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the aim of protesting the town council’s suggested removal of the statue of Robert Edward Lee from Emancipation Park, after the council had been pressured for a long time to do so by non-White residents (Fausset & Feuer, 2017; Montgomery, 2017). Lee had been a general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia,[1] with which he invaded the North and won various battles against the Union with tactical brilliance, until his defeat in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg and his surrender two years later to Ulysses S. Grant (A&E History Network, 2017). Lee has been portrayed as a legendary figure in American history and is revered by the American South as a heroic symbol of their ‘Lost Cause,’ a revisionist narrative of the Civil War (Contreras, 2017). Historic documents have, in fact, shown that Lee was a known racist and “cruel figure with his slaves [who] encouraged his overseers to severely beat slaves captured after trying to escape” (ibid.). Given the above context, the Unite the Right rally soon escalated and turned violent, leading the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, to declare it unlawful at the request of the Virginia State Police (BBC, 2017; Ford, 2017; Katz, 2017). He also proclaimed a state of emergency.

Unite the Right clashed repeatedly in downtown Charlottesville with a broader-spectrum group of anti-racism counterprotesters who descended into the streets to challenge the former’s ideology. Unite the Right consisted of groups of hundreds of White nationalists and White supremacists, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis, ‘patriot’ militias and supporters wearing paramilitary protective gear and armed with guns, semi-automatic weapons, clubs, rods, three-foot wide wooden shields, and pepper spray among several other items. They sported Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats, Confederate flags and swastikas, and carried both Trump/Pence signs and various banners with anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic screeds. ‘Hitler salutes’ were reported to be frequent (Lithwick, 2017). Among the identifiable Unite the Right groups were Identity Evropa,[2] the League of the South, the National Socialist Movement, Proud Boys, the Traditional Workers’ Party, the Three Percenters, and Vanguard America (Cicero, 2017; Montgomery, 2017). Richard B. Spencer, the well-known founder of the American alt-right[3] movement and president of the National Policy Institute (NPI),[4] was one of the rally’s featured speakers.[5]

The counterprotesters were members of the anti-fascist movement (Antifa) including the group Redneck Revolt (RR), Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists from across the country, over 100 Christian ministers and interfaith leaders, all of them dressed in clerical suits; residents of Charlottesville, and other supporters (Green, 2017; Heim, Silverman, Rees Shapiro & Brown, 2017; Lithwick, 2017; Montgomery, 2017; Pearce, 2017; Thrush & Haberman, 2017). Some of them were armed with assault rifles, pistols, baseball bats, clubs, sticks, paint spray cans, and pepper spray among other items. They also carried a large sign that read Alt-right: Your time has come. Cornell West, the famous philosopher, social critic and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA),[6] was one of the counterprotesters (Lithwick, 2017).

Considered a “new touchstone in the nation’s long-running debate over racism, free speech and violence” (Pearce, 2017), Unite the Right hurled a multitude of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs and curses at the counterprotesters. They charged at the latter in mobs, screaming and spitting obscenities along the way (Lithwick, 2017). The counterprotesters responded with their own ‘brand’ of slurs. Both sides ended up “throwing things at each other . . . [and] beating each other” (Ray, 2017).

Water and urine bottles, broken flagpoles, rocks, feces, and tomatoes became the projectiles of the day (Cicero, 2017; Montgomery, 2017). Spray cans were lit and used to ‘torch’ opponents with flames. According to the Buzzfeed news reporter at the scene, Unite the Right “used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to ‘move forward’ or ‘retreat,’ and would form a line of shields or a phalanx . . . they had practiced for this . . . Yes, you can blame the Nazis” (Montgomery, 2017). The Washington Post reporter declared, “Everywhere, it seemed violence was exploding” (Heim, 2017). According to the Reverend Seth Wispelwey, who was among the counterprotesters, “The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb,” (Lithwick, 2017).

One Unite the Right protester yelled, “Let’s get this race war started! Shoot me!” (Montgomery, 2017). Another of their shield-men, Marcus Cicero (2017), called the counterprotesters “Genetic refuse.” Yet another Unite the Right protester, James Alex Fields, aged 20 years, rammed his car, a Dodge Challenger, into the opposing crowd in a deliberate act of hit-and-run domestic terrorism. He killed a 19-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and mowed down several others, sending people screaming and flying through the air, terrorizing the entire neighborhood before speeding away (Katz, 2017; Montgomery, 2017).

The Charlottesville police turned up in riot gear to break up the clashing groups. Two of the state troopers also called in to monitor the unfolding violence were killed when their helicopter crashed in nearby grounds (Thrush & Haberman, 2017). The night before, Unite the Right had marched with burning torches all throughout the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil!” and the mantra of the Ku-Klux-Klan (KKK) “You [Jews] will not replace us!” The scene was eerily reminiscent of the violence-and-death marches held by the original KKK in the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, as well as the marches of the Sturmabteilung[7] in 1930s Germany.

The Response

President Trump Speaks

The 45th President of the US (POTUS), Donald John Trump, denounced the racist groups and the violence that had occurred, but proclaimed that “both sides” (Bierman, 2017) were responsible for the bloodshed. In the meantime, members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, unequivocally denounced the violence at Charlottesville and the White supremacist ideology that first incited it (Ford, 2017). The five Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Military also condemned both the racism manifested and the violence (Phillips, 2017), as did the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB; 2017).

The Speaker of the House,[8] Paul Ryan (2017), tweeted, “Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.” Later, he wrote, “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (2017), tweeted, “The hate and bigotry witnessed in Charlottesville does not reflect American values. I wholeheartedly oppose their actions.” He also released a statement declaring that:

We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head (Diaz, 2017).

The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (2017), responded, “Until [POTUS] specifically condemns alt-right action in Charlottesville, he hasn’t done his job.” The Democratic Leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi (2017), tweeted, “Our nation is defined by the mark of progress. Our strength lies in our diversity. We must reject hate.” President Trump (2017a), however, doubled down on his viewpoint, despite saying in a couple of tweets, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets [sp] come together as one . . . Charlottesville sad!”

At a rapidly-assembled press conference, POTUS declared that he condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” (Ford, 2017). He twice repeated the last phrase. When reporters asked him, “Mr. President, do you want the support of these White nationalists? Do you call that terrorism, sir?” the President walked away without responding (Todd, Murray & Dann, 2017).

Answering an alternate series of questions posed to him a few days later by reporters at a free-wheeling press conference held at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, POTUS elaborated:

When you say “the alt-right,” define ‘alt-right’ to me! . . . What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at the, as you say, the ‘alt-right’? Do they have any semblance of guilt? They came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs . . . there is blame on both sides . . . that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait! I’m not finished, Fake News! You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, who were very, very violent . . . I’ve condemned neo-Nazis, I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people [the protesters] were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were White supremacists by any stretch . . . I think there’s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it . . . What took place was a horrible moment for our country . . . The driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country. You can call it terrorism; you can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want . . . the driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing (Bierman, 2017).

The prevarications of POTUS to blanket condemn the supremacist ideology that had initiated the violence in Charlottesville and his insistence on moral equivalency between the two groups of protesters led several Democrats and Republicans to rebuke him in turn. Some considered it an outright failure of presidential leadership (Todd, Murray, & Dann, 2017). Among those reprimanding President Trump in either a direct or an indirect manner were former US Presidents.

William Jefferson Clinton (2017), the 42nd POTUS, tweeted, “Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and White supremacy.” Barack Hussein Obama (2017), the 44th POTUS, wrote in a series of tweets:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart, than its opposite – Nelson Mandela.

George H. W. Bush, the 41st POTUS, and George W. Bush, the 43rd POTUS, said in a joint statement:

America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country (Cohen, 2017).

Jeb Bush (2017), the son of #41 and brother of #43, wrote in a series of tweets:

This is a time for moral clarity not ambivalence. I urge @POTUS to unite the country, not parse the assignment of blame for the events in Charlottesville. For the sake of our country, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House.

The Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring (2017), a Democrat, tweeted about POTUS, “The violence, chaos and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides.’ It is racists and White supremacists. Lawmakers including members of his own party.” Democrat Senator Ron Wyden (2017) of Oregon responded, “What happened in Charlottesville is domestic terrorism. The President’s words only serve to offer cover for heinous acts.” Republican Senator Cory Gardner (2017) of Colorado tweeted, “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name,” while Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (2017) of Florida, the most senior Republican woman in the House of Representatives, declared, “Blaming ‘both sides’ for Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, White supremacists? Just no.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Olin Graham released a statement that said:

Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency. Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out of the David Dukes of the world (Diaz, 2017).

The Vietnam veteran, Republican Senator John McCain (2017), tweeted, “There is no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the US should say so.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio (2017) of Florida stated that it was “Very important for the nation to hear [POTUS] describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack [by White supremacists].” In a later series of tweets, the content of which proved prophetic, he declared:

The organizers of events which inspired and led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons . . . Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of the blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain. The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of the blame as a win. We cannot allow this old evil to be resurrected.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (2017) of Utah told POTUS in two tweets, “Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society . . . We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” One of the last World War II (WWII) veterans to serve in the House, retired Democratic congressman John Dingell (2017) of Michigan, blasted, “I signed up to fight the Nazis 73 years ago and I’ll do it again if I have to. Hatred, bigotry & fascism should have no place in this country.”

Heather Heyer’s Mother Speaks

During a public memorial that was held for Heather Heyer, the woman killed by Unite the Right, her mother, Susan Bro, gave a heart-rending eulogy that received an extended standing ovation from the attendees. The eulogy was as follows:

I have to go to Facebook to find pictures of my child because we were always together. I saw her a couple times a month at least, and we would text each other fairly often, and we would Facebook message and say, “I love you.” I have no regrets on that part. Take pictures of the ones you love because you don’t know when they’re not going to be there.

Here’s what I want to say to you today. This could be a storm in a teacup, and it could all be for nothing. I could have said, “Don’t do this publicly. Let’s have a small, private funeral,” but that’s not who Heather was. Anybody who knew Heather said this is the way she had to go, big and large – had to have the world involved because that’s my child. She’s just that way, always has been. And she will continue to be because here’s the message.

Although Heather was a caring and compassionate person, so are a lot of you. A lot of you go that extra mile. And I think the reason that what happened to Heather has struck a chord is because we know that what she did was achievable.

We don’t all have to die. We don’t all have to sacrifice our lives. They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her. So here’s what I want to happen. You asked me, what can I do? So many caring people – pages of pages of pages of stuff I’m going through, I’m reading pages of pages of pages of how she is touching the world.

I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy. This is not the end of Heather’s legacy. You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see and want to turn away?

“I don’t want to get involved.” “They’ll be annoyed with me.” “My boss might think less of me.”

I don’t care. You point a finger at yourself like Heather would have done, and you make it happen. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world. My child had a high school education. My child was no saint. She was hard to raise because everything was a negotiation. I’m not kidding, but you know what? She was a firm believer in whatever she believed. And let’s do that. Let’s find that spark of conviction, let’s find in ourselves that action, let’s have the uncomfortable dialogue.

It ain’t easy sitting down and saying, “Why are you upset?” It ain’t easy sitting down and going, “Yeah, well I think this way, and I don’t agree with you, but I’m going to respectfully listen to what you have to say.” We’re not going to sit around and shake hands and go, “Kumbaya, and I’m sorry.” It’s not all about forgiveness. I know that’s not a popular chant. The truth is, we are going to have our differences, we are going to be angry with each other, but let’s change – will that anger, not into hate, not into violence, not into fear, but let’s channel that anger into righteous action.

Right now, there is a blood drive going on in Heather’s name. Right now, there are people who are here willing to listen to one another and talk to one another. Last night in New England, they had a peaceful rally in Heather’s name, to have some difficult dialogue. If you ever want to see what those dialogues look like, look at her Facebook page. I’m telling you, they were rough sometimes. But they were dialogues and conversations that have to happen. That’s the only way we’re going to carry Heather’s spark through.

So remember, in your heart, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention, and I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong, don’t ignore it, don’t look the other way. Make a point to look at it, and say to yourself, “What can I do to make a difference?”

And that’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I have to give her up, we are going to make it count (Lewis, 2017).

Following the prevaricatory response of President Trump to the overt racism underlying the Charlottesville violence, members of the White House Business Council resigned en masse to protest the President’s seeming inability to comprehend the moral inequivalence present between the two protesting groups (Thrush & Haberman, 2017). At the same time, in what can only be considered to be eerie fulfilment of the words of Marco Rubio, POTUS was praised and thanked in public for his “both sides” response by David Duke – the former leader of the KKK.

In September 2017, the US Congress sent President Trump a joint resolution passed by unanimous consent in both the House and the Senate (Debonis & Portnoy, 2017). It condemned in no uncertain terms the violence that had taken place in Charlottesville as well as White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups. Contrary to the stance held by the President on the entire matter, the resolution did not single out any counterprotesters for denunciation. The resolution also urged POTUS to speak out against racist hate groups in America.

[1] The most famous and successful of all the Confederate armies (Civil War Trust, 2017).

[2] According to their website: A generation of awakened Europeans who have discovered they are part of the great peoples.

[3] A broad group of people who ascribe to far-right ideologies that include “preserving and protecting the White race . . . in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes, and strict law-and-order” (Daniszewski, 2016). The alt-right movement has been considered “an offshoot of conservatism” (ibid.) characterized by the confluence of racism, White nationalism, and populism (Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], 2016). It has been critical of “multiculturalism, and more rights for non-Whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants, and other minorities” (Daniszewski, 2016). Spencer defined the alt-right as “A break with establishment conservatism that favors experimentation with the ideas of the French New Right; libertarian thought as exemplified by former US Rep. Ron Paul; anarcho-capitalism which advocates individual sovereignty and open markets in place of an organized state; Catholic traditionalism, which seeks a return to Roman Catholicism before the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council; and other ideologies” (SPLC, 2016). Spencer (2017) has openly said, “We want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word.” He quoted Nazi propaganda in German and declared that “America belonged to White people . . . ‘the children of the sun,’ a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized, but now . . . were ‘awakening to their own identity’” (Goldstein, 2016). Spencer also called the mainstream media lügenpresse – a Nazi-era term meaning lying press (Stone, 2017).

[4] A far-right think tank in Arlington, Virginia, involved with the ideology of White nationalism and the preservation of Western civilization. NPI’s (2017) motto is “For our people, our culture, our future.”

[5] All featured events were cancelled by the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency after violence broke out.

[6] A multi-tendency activist organization comprised of democratic socialist, social democratic and labor political parties (DSA, 2017; Lithwick, 2017).

[7] Storm Detachment; the Brownshirts. The original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, which played a significant role in Hitler’s rise to power.

[8] The third in the line of succession to the US presidency.

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