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Right-wing terrorism strikes Charlottesville

August 13, 2017

In an act of terrorism, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racists in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. This is the latest backlash of racist violence, encouraged by the Trump presidency and continuing a long legacy.

Anti-racist movements have swept across the US in the past few years—from Black Lives Matter challenging anti-Black racism, to Indigenous communities leading the climate justice movement, to racialized workers leading the Fight for $15, to migrant workers and their allies calling for sanctuary cities. These fights for a better future include efforts to correct distortions about the past.

Removing symbols of slavery

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, there are more than 1,500 symbols of Confederacy in public spaces, including 109 public schools named for General Robert Lee, President Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons. After the 2015 massacre of Black parishioners in Charleston, there have been growing demands for southern states to remove their symbols of slavery, which have succeeded in removing or renaming 60 sites. State capital buildings in South Carolina and Alabama removed their Confederate flags two years ago, while New Orleans removed the statue of Jefferson Davis this year.

In 2015 someone spraypainted “Black Lives Matter” on the statue of General Lee in Charlottesville’s Lee Park, and in last year highschool student Zyahna Bryant petitioned the city council to remove the statue entirely. As she explained,

“As a teenager in Charlottesville that identifies as black, I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now. Quite frankly I am disgusted with the selective display of history in this city. There is more to Charlottesville than just the memories of Confederate fighters… Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives. As a result, legislatures of the south chose to ignore and turn a blind eye to the injustices of African Americans from Jim crow and anti-black terrorism to integrated education. These are all some things that this statue stands for.”

In January of this year Charlottesville joined the growing numbers of sanctuary cities across the US—challenging Trump’s travel ban—and in February city council voted to change the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park, and to remove the statue.

Racist backlash

As Wes Bellamy, Charlottesville vice mayor and the only African-American city councilor explained, “When you have African Americans who decide to stand up in nontraditional African-American places, in places in which we haven’t been very vocal or in which we have, quote-unquote, ‘caused trouble’ or stirred things up, whenever we decide to do so, and our white brothers and sisters or Latino brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters of different hues and persuasions decide to rally and ride with us, whenever you see that kind of uprising...individuals who believe that things should be the way they’ve always been, they normally push back. You’ve seen this from the ‘40s to the ‘50s to the ‘60s.”

This latest pushback has been encouraged by Trump, and his appointment of right-wing extremist Steve Bannon a his Chief Strategist. As former KKK leader David Duke threatened, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

What this means was on full display in Charlottesville: racists organized a “Unite the Right” rally at the site of the statue of Lee, marched through University of Virginia brandishing torches, and unleashed anti-Black violence including the beating of 20-year old Deadre Harris. When a diverse crowd of anti-racists confronted them, a white supremacist drove his car through the crowd—killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. As Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, explained, “The klan was at its height during Black reconstruction. The last 4 years has been our reconstruction moment, and this is the backlash.”

After encouraging the growth of the far right, Trump refused the condemn its lethal violence, instead vagueling speaking out against “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”—as if the anti-racists who were injured and killed are an equal threat to the racists who killed and injured them. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also condemned “racial bigotry,” but it’s unclear what he means by this, as just last week his Department of Justice  laid out plans to sue universities over affirmative action policies deemed to “discriminate against white applicants.” The media have been similarly evasive, speaking of “violent clashes” that “left one person dead” rather than condemning right-wing terrorism and anti-Black racism.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency, claiming that “public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers”—as though a neutral state will mediate between the supposedly twin evils of racist and anti-racists. But the last time the far right held a rally in Charlottesville, the police left the hooded KKK alone and afterwards tear gased counterprotesters and arrested two dozen. The police, a racist institution whose anti-Black violence sparked Black Lives Matter, is no solution to the far right.

Instead of appealing to capitalist state power we need to keep building the people power represented by the anti-racist movements that have been growing the past few years, as well as driving the facists off the streets.


Looking at the tragic images from yesterday’s terrorist attack, there isn’t a starker dichotomy of who we are and what we’re against. Confronting the forces of racism, bigotry, xenophobia and violence, the counterprotest signs proclaim loudly: Black Lives Matter, solidarity, love, and the fight for a better world. In the aftermath of the attack, you can see the politics of our side: attempts to stop the car, running in to help the injured before the car drives off, attending to cries for help, and what rests at the core of socialist politics: solidarity.

At the core of this solidarity is a sense of the international struggle of us against them; of the 99% versus 1%; of the politics of hope versus the politics of hate; of the desire for a better world built on cooperation versus a vision of the world carved up along racial lines. Whether you are inside or outside of the United States, we have just lost a comrade in that international struggle.

As we learn about the death of a member of the IWW and injuries to members of the ISO, DSA, Black Lives Matter, and many others who were standing up against bigotry, we are reminded of an article that came out after the murder of Ahmad Sami, a comrade in the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt during the Egyptian Revolution. The words seem fitting for the situation today. We paraphrase below:

“Wherever socialists are when one of our side is murdered, it should make us all the more determined to carry on the fight. We are proud to be part of the same fight for a better world as those injured or killed in Charlottesville this weekend. That fight reaches back through the struggles of generations across the world. We are internationalists. Our struggle for a better world and a socialist society knows no borders.”

How to help:

As of writing this, several fundraising pages for the injured have begun to pop-up. We list those we are aware of as of writing and if able encourage all to donate.

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