Charlottesville and White Nationalism

When people took to the streets to celebrate Victory in Europe day in 1945, there were rallying cries of solidarity, an echoing sentiment along the lines of ‘we will never let this happen again’ and ‘we have learned from our mistakes’. That idea carried through to recent years, where the rise of fascism seemed like a laughable notion and prolific white nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were given minimal exposure and were thus without a platform to spout their racist ideology. 

In 2016, the United States election saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as their respective party candidates, running against one another. Where Clinton was a line-toeing member of the Democratic Party, Trump was a wildcard, brought in to shake up the established Republican Party. A lot of people viewed the election as a choice of the lesser of two evils. A cliche, yes, but nevertheless true. I won’t deny that Clinton had several issues with her campaign and policies; nobody’s perfect. But, one thing that Clinton didn’t have was a public endorsement from the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke. That’s what set Trump apart from everyone else. It’s also one of the contributing factors that led to the spike in white nationalism in the United States. 

When someone like Donald Trump, a public figure with a seat of power, allows for this kind of rhetoric to be spread, and displays evidence of some shared ideas, it merely gives credence to groups like the KKK. 

It all came to a head on August 11th, when right-wing white nationalists came together in Charlottesville, Virginia in an organised ‘Unite The Right’ rally. A majority of white men marched together with lit tiki-torches, an utterly ironic choice for people who believe that white people are the superior and ultimate race, in order to protest the removal of a confederate statue in the city. They were also adorned with swastikas and Confederate flags and shouted slurs and slogans like “blood and soil”. 

There are no words to describe how stupid this entire situation was. The rally, unsurprisingly, led to counter-protests. They protested peacefully among the vile bigotry being spread. Despite a monumental clash of opinions, it wasn’t at all violent until a white nationalist drove his car into the crowd. This led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer at the Unite The Right rally. It was a heartbreaking tragedy that should never have happened. The death of Heather Heyer can be defined as a terrorist attack. It was a politically motivated and pre-meditated attack that aimed to subvert others and intimidate or terrorise them into following a personal ideology. 



In any other reality, a President would usually strongly condemn a far-right rally as soon as possible. However, it is Donald Trump’s world and we merely live in it. President Donald Trump spoke at a press conference in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Reading off his cue cards with all the enthusiasm of a toddler attempting algebra, he stated that the administration “condemn[s] in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides.” And that said everything. His words equated the “racist mob with the counter protesters who stood up to resist them”, effectively not condemning the white nationalists, regardless of whether or not he used the word “condemn”. 

The neo-nazis that were a part of such a demonstration stated that the rally was intended to “fulfil the promises of Donald Trump”. This would of course refer to the vile race-baiting statements that were a key component of Trump’s 2016 campaign, which has continued through into his presidency. Furthermore, the lack of ‘real’ condemnation against the neo-nazis at Charlottesville earned Trump praise from David Duke, with him saying that it was “really, really good” the way he deflected the question of unequivocal condemnation. Without a vocal denouncement of such events, it will inevitably allow for these racist, white nationalist movements to move forward and be fuelled by it. Saying nothing is almost the same thing as saying yes – ask anybody playing a game of Never Have I Ever. 

I woke up just a few days ago to the news alert that two white nationalist rallies took place in Tennessee on October 28th. One took place in Shelbyville, Tennessee and another in Murfreesboro. The rallies were protesting the influx of Sudanese and Somalian immigrants into the state. There were references to a recent shooting in a Nashville church. The police suspect a Sudanese immigrant who is now able to legally live in the U.S. There were around 200 white nationalists in Shelbyville with confederate flags and chants of “White Lives Matter” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”. Amazingly, a group of 400 counter-protesters showed up to overshadow the white nationalist rallies. They chanted “Black Lives Matter” to drown out the “White Lives Matter” rhetoric. The counter-protesters also played Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream speech’. 

It is horrible and ridiculous that this kind of thing is occurring in this day and age. A smaller but still significant white nationalist movement has been the ‘It’s Okay To Be White’ campaign, which started on 4chan and urges people to display posters with that phrase. It has come about recently in Englefield Green and mirrors similar campaigns in many campuses across the US.

White nationalism is clearly a growing problem and there are many public figures and lawmakers that are not doing enough to stop their expanding movement. Following backlash from his Charlottesville comments, Trump and his administration changed their tune and decided to unequivocally condemn the white nationalists. Many white nationalists rationalise his change of statement to be the result of an overly politically correct and liberal society, forcing him to condemn them. Thus, it wouldn’t have made a difference either way if Donald Trump had simply kept to his original statement: the damage has already been done. President Trump and other lawmakers and public figures need to start condemning this calibre of racism from the start, making sure it doesn’t spread any more than it already has. 

But, while I grow old waiting for that moment, we as individuals need to take charge and do exactly what we have been doing. By attending counter-protests and outnumbering the white nationalists, it affirms the belief that there are more of us than there are of them. Hopefully, we can make sure that these kinds of beliefs are not the new normal and do what others have failed to do, which is to fight and condemn white nationalism and racism in all forms. 

By Michele Theil

Michele Theil is a freelance journalist based in London, specialising in investigative journalism and pieces relating to the LGBT+ community, women, race and culture – and their intersections. She is a bisexual woman of colour, and passionate about social justice, diversity, inclusion, writing, reading and swimming. Read her other work at

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