How Charlottesville Became a Rallying Point for White Supremacists

Racism exists everywhere, so why pick this liberal college town? Vanity Fair looks for answers.

white supremacy
Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017 (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Charlottesville, Virginia, is a beautiful city and home to the University of Virginia. But this past weekend, violence struck the small town when white supremacists came to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Three people were killed during the weekend’s events and many injured. People in the town are left wondering why Charlottesville?

The statue at the heart of this weekend’s rally was erected as one of four sculptures donated to the city by Paul Goodloe McIntire, writes Vanity FairMany residents saw it as a response to the founding of a local KKK chapter in Charlottesville, which happened a few years before the statue arrived. It has been at the center of debate since earlier this year when a local high-school student started a petition for its removal. The City Council then voted to have it sold.

Vanity Fair writes that two parks in Charlottesville have also changed names. The Lee Park was renamed Emancipation Park and the Jackson Park, named after Stonewall Jackson, was renamed Justice Park.

The white supremacists were led by Richard Spencer, a U.Va. alum who hosted a white nationalist rally in D.C. after Trump’s election, and Jason Kessler, a local Charlottesville man “whose rhetoric has grown more vitriolic in recent months.” Other Unite the Right protestors came, promising to “do battle.”

However, the greater Charlottesville community and some out-of-towners were prepared to talk peacefully with the white supremacists, though that did not happen. On U.Va.’s campus, students linked arms around the statue of Thomas Jefferson, even as neo-Nazi’s lit tiki torches and surrounded them. The neo-Nazis started to pull away the students’ banners and touch the counter-protestors, writes Vanity Fair, but then the students used pepper spray. The neo-Nazis had mace. Then the neo-Nazis started hitting students with the tiki torches and pulling protesters off the ground and beating them up, an eyewitness told Vanity Fair. 

Charlottesville might be one of the most liberal towns in the south, but it is also one of the whitest, and U.Va. “represents a sort of antebellum fantasy of the South.” Vanity Fair writes that the appeal of Charlottesville is its whiteness, but also as its becoming more liberal, it is seen as almost a battleground of sorts between the “Virginia Gentleman stomping ground it used to be and the more liberal academic place it is becoming.” Vanity Fair also writes that it is a city that is easily overwhelmed, unlike Richmond.

The role of the police force is also in question. Vanity Fair writes that “they were literally outgunned and outnumbered by the hundreds of Unite the Right protestors.” Another theory is that they took little action to avoid provoking the situation further.

Since this weekend, Spencer has promised to come back and “make Charlottesville the center of the universe.”

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