On August 13, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car ploughed into a crowd as she attended a counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer was a 32-year-old legal assistant who took part a march against the alt-right “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. The car was driven by James Fields Jr who had travelled from Kentucky to support and partake in the alt-right rally. It is claimed that Fields Jr was part of the resurging Neo-Nazi movement in America.
The racist riots in Charlottesville serve as a warning that the Nazi ideology and white supremacist movements we once thought quashed following the end of World War II in 1945 and the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s are again rearing their ugly heads.
As a global community, we have come so far. We (well, most of us) support equal rights and racial equality. We have established an International Court of Justice in The Hague to prosecute those who infringe on fundamental human rights and persecute others based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender. And yet, somehow, there seems to be a growing population who is against this. Some argue that these neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have been bubbling away in the States since the Civil Rights Movement and it is only now with a somewhat sympathetic President that they are becoming more public.
The actions of Fields Jr on August 13 was that of a terrorist. Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. He used violent means to result in the death of a civilian in the pursuit of a political agenda. To me this is clear as day. Despite calls from both Democrats and Republicans, Trump and his administration have refused to call out the killing for what it was, an act of domestic terrorism.
In the days following Heyer’s death Trump’s response was underwhelming in condemnation of the Alt-Right movement. He instead chose to lay the blame on both sides calling out the alt-left or the Antifa movement. In his words “there is blame on both sides”.
“You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”
Trump’s statement sent the media and his fellow politicians into a spin. He chose to publicly lay the blame of the death of Heyer (an innocent woman, fighting for civil rights) on both sides. Sparking Republicans and Democrats alike to tweet out their disgust in the President’s response.
Pro-Trump right-wing and white supremacist media outlets such as the Daily Stormer praised Trump’s statement stating that “Trump’s comments were good. He didn’t attack us. … No condemnation at all”. Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, who attended the Charlottesville rally, told reporters white nationalists were working on “fulfilling the promises of Donald Trump”. So, if white supremacists think they are doing Trump’s bidding – what does this say about Trump’s policies? Is he a supremacist? Or is he just an inflated ego peddling a racist agenda to gain power?
This leads me to the question: Who are the white supremacists and what is white supremacy?
White supremacy encompasses the beliefs and ideas purporting the natural superiority of the Caucasian or “white” human races over other racial groups. In contemporary usage the term white supremacy can be used to describe groups espousing ultranationalist, racist, or fascist doctrines. Nowadays, we might align white supremacy with the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis.
When I conjure an image of a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, I think of lower-socioeconomic, traditionally uneducated, gun-toting, white god-loving males who live in hovels throughout the middle and southern states of America. Granted this a stereotype but it’s a stereotype supported by popular media.
Think back to the way the Vinyard family is portrayed in American History X. A family of five crammed into what appears to be government housing. There is no father present. The father-figure and eldest brother Derek Vinyard is in jail following the brutal murder of a black man. The film offers no images of a mother caring for her children. Instead, the children are left to fend for themselves. This representation of the Vineyard family does nothing to dispel the stereotype.
You see a similar portrayal of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in mainstream American media coverage today – hillbillies with pitchforks or baseball bats. White supremacists by their very definition are violent, and use violent means to achieve their ends.
As someone who views themselves as a discerning and critical observer, I ask myself how much of my own perception is shaped by the media. Clearly, Trump as a successful businessman and now political is not an uneducated man from background and yet is seen (at least by the alt-right) as a supporter of their movement. I think it is time we reconsider the stereotypes surrounding white supremacists and neo-nazis.
We need to wake up to the reality that these people are no longer in the shadows and hiding their ideologies on the dark web. They are out, they are proud and they fighting and we must push back.