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Tiki Torches, Terror And Tears: One Year After Charlottesville

Protesters and journalists pull back after tear gas was used on the outskirts of Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Protesters and journalists pull back after tear gas was used on the outskirts of Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Just a year ago, a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.

A.C Thompson covered the rally for ProPublica.

The mood of the marchers wasn’t merely angry, it felt homicidal.

And yet, as the march snaked across the grounds of the University of Virginia, I’d only seen two police officers. One of them had confronted Karim, who was carrying a camera-equipped drone in his hand. The officer wanted Karim [a producer for PBS’s Frontline who was working with Thompson] to know that he wasn’t allowed to fly it over the campus.

By now you know, at least in rough terms, what happened that night. A horde of white supremacists clad in polo shirts attacked a small group of anti-racist protesters, many of them students. The white supremacists used their flaming torches as weapons, smashing them into the students, again and again.

The following day, a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed by a 20-year-old neo-Nazi from Ohio. Twenty-nine people were injured. The violence wasn’t just in the rhetoric. It was real. The footage of that protest was terrifying.

In the days to come, the president of the United States would suggest there were “very fine people” within the group of white nationalists that demonstrated. The White House later released a statement that said the president condemns all forces of hatred and bigotry, including white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, wrote about the anniversary of her daughter’s death for Cosmopolitan.

The anniversary of Heather’s death doesn’t really mean much of anything except that it’s been a year. And the truth is, very little actual change has taken place in that time period. In Charlottesville, there have been some personnel changes, with more diverse leadership, but they’re frequently frustrated in their efforts to make progress in areas like affordable housing. As for the country as a whole, that’s probably going to take another set of elections before anything starts to change.

As preparation for another Unite The Right rally gets underway, we examine what can be done to prevent more violence, why hate groups haven’t gone away and whether public demonstrations by dangerous white nationalist organizations are a price of living in a democracy.

Produced by Bianca Martin. Text by Gabrielle Healy.


Hawes Spencer, Journalist, covered the events in Charlottesville for The New York Times. Author, “Summer of Hate: Charlottesville USA” @HawesSpencer

Lisa Woolfork, Associate professor of English at the University of Virginia

Mike Signer, Former mayor 2016-2018 of Charlottesville, Virginia; City Council Member; @MikeSigner

Jillian Johnson, At-large member of the Durham, N.C. City Council; @JillianDURM

Ibram X. Kendi, Author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America”; professor and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University; @DrIbram

Heidi Beirich, Director of The Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center

Amos Lee, Singer-songwriter; @amoslee

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