In his comments Tuesday, President Trump claimed to know everything about what had happened in Charlottesville; he claimed to know more than almost anyone on the subject, especially his critics.
If that is true, then Trump must know that what happened in Charlottesville had little to do with peaceful protest or the preservation of Confederate heritage. He knows that it was in reality a major paramilitary exercise planned by armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists to test their numbers, organizing ability, strength and support. And he must know how thrilled they are at how the test run turned out.
As neo-Nazi leader Richard B. Spencer later bragged, “It was a huge moral victory, in terms of the show of force.”
“We’re showing to this parasitic class of anti-white vermin that this is our country, that this country was built by our forefathers and sustained by us. It’s going to remain our country,” as Robert Ray of the supremacist website The Daily Stormer¹ explained to Vice News. “I believe, as you can see, that we’re stepping out of the Internet in a big way. For instance, last night, at the torch walk, there were hundreds and hundreds of us. People realize that they are not atomized individuals, but they are part of a larger whole. We’ve been spreading our memes, we’ve been organizing on the Internet and now they’re coming out.”
“There will be more events. Soon,” The Daily Stormer promised later on its website. “We are going to start doing this nonstop. Across the country.”
Matthew Heimbach, another prominent neo-Nazi leader, was equally pleased.
“We achieved all of our objectives,” he said. “We showed that our movement is not just online, but growing physically. We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America. We had zero vehicles damaged, all our people accounted for, and moved a large amount of men and materials in and out of the area. I think we did an incredibly impressive job.”
When Heimbach talks of his movement’s logistical success in moving “a large amount of … materials in and out of the area,” he is of course talking about weaponry. According to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the right-wing groups that descended upon Charlottesville had weapons caches hidden around the city, in apparent preparation for outright armed conflict. And if law enforcement in the city did not intervene more forcefully to stop the violence, the governor suggested, it was out of fear of setting off a firefight that it could not easily control, with great loss of life.
“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army …,” McAuliffe said. “I was just talking to the State Police upstairs; [the militia members] had better equipment than our State Police had. And yet not a shot was fired.”
However, that absence of protection did not go unnoticed. Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, wrote afterward that he had requested police protection for worshipers at his synagogue but that no protection was provided. The congregation hired an armed guard, and after learning of Internet posts calling for the synagogue to be burned, it moved its Torahs to an off-site location.
“For half an hour (during morning services Saturday), three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.
Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols….
When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.
This is 2017 in the United States of America.”
Again, if we are to take Trump at his word, he knew all this Tuesday when he announced that after collecting all the facts, he believes that “both sides” are at fault, that there were “very fine people” on those two sides. He knew, and he said it anyway.
His claim of deep knowledge did have one exception, however: He claimed not to have known that longtime Klan leader David Duke had been in attendance at Charlottesville, helping to lead the campaign.
Duke, on the other hand, is very well aware of Trump and how he has handled the controversy.
“We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump; that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,” Duke told reporters in Charlottesville on Saturday.
And since Trump’s comments on Tuesday, Duke has been almost ecstatic:
Heimbach, head of the neo-Nazi Traditional Workers Party, also said that he felt encouraged by Charlottesville and its aftermath.
“If the nationalist community can come together, stand together and fight together, that we are going to be unstoppable, that our rise, even just going back since I have been involved in this movement, it used to be a rally of 50 guys was very successful. Now we’re rallying 1,000, 1,500 people in the streets. Our movement is growing.”
It is incomprehensible to me that an American president cannot recognize the danger that such people represent, that he cannot bring himself to condemn such people and disavow their support. He has been warned repeatedly about the effect that his words and statements might produce. He has been offered every opportunity to banish these people from those he considers his base.
With his silence, he makes himself complicit; after this performance, Trump is going to own any and all violence committed by the alt-right.
¹The name “Daily Stormer” is a tribute to the Nazi Party’s viciously anti-Semitic house organ Der Stürmer.
“One must never forget the services rendered by Der Stürmer,” as Adolph Hitler said in 1942. “… Now that Jews are known for what they are, nobody any longer thinks that (Der Stürmer publisher Julius) Streicher libeled them.”
After the war, Streicher was tried at Nuremberg and hanged.