The neo-Nazis, fascists, and bigots may not constitute a majority in the United States but they find great comfort and encouragement in the pronouncements of Donald Trump. The horrific events of August 11–12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, provide ample proof of the dangerous rise of racism and bigotry in the US since Trump’s election as president.
The property tycoon had pandered to the neo-Nazis and skinheads long before his election. Few took him seriously at the time and assumed he had as much chance of becoming the president as a person being hit by a meteorite. Well, the unthinkable did happen. Trump is in the White House while the club-, chain- and gun-wielding thugs are out in the streets in cities like Charlottesville and Boston. In Charlottesville, they carried fire torches and shouted blood-curdling chants. They want to “take America back from the Jews” and insist on defending “White America.”
The white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were protesting against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a general who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War. The following day (August 12), when a counter-protest was organized against the thugs, one neo-Nazi protester rammed his car full speed into the crowd and murdered an anti-racist protester in the street. At least 20 others were injured. The murdered woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was a paralegal and resident of Charlottesville.
In the face of such horrific scenes on the streets of America, Trump maintained deadly silence. The neo-Nazis interpreted this as endorsement of their criminal acts. Two days later (August 14), Trump was forced by his advisors to speak out against the racists but the following day (August 15), his true feelings erupted.
He spoke in defence of the white supremacist rally organizers. Trump said those who marched in defence of Lee’s statue had included “many fine people.” He also went on to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence (meaning the neo-Nazis and those opposing them). Not surprisingly, David Duke, the former grand marshal of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), praised Trump for his “understanding.”
Those Americans who demand the removal of monuments to the Confederacy say they are racially offensive because these people supported slavery and oppression. Those who want the statues to stay claim they are important symbols preserving southern heritage. Trump agrees with them. In a series of tweets, he said the “history and culture of our great country” was being “ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments”!
His tweets and public comments evoked outrage from a wide spectrum of people in the US. In an unprecedented move, even American generals and admirals, in direct challenge to their commander-in-chief’s pronouncements, took to Twitter to condemn racism and bigotry, aware that if blacks in the US armed forces were to quit, these forces would collapse.
Faced with the rising storm, Trump tried to use Susan Bro, mother of the slain woman Heather Heyer, to regain some of his rapidly dwindling political space. Susan Bro was so offended by Trump’s remarks equating counter-demonstrators, like her daughter, with white supremacists that she refused to speak to him.
Speaking to ABC New’s Good Morning America television program, Mrs. Bro said she missed a call from the White House, apparently made during her daughter’s public memorial on August 16. Trump’s press team left three more “frantic messages” for her. She told the TV channel she was physically exhausted and emotionally drained after attending her daughter’s funeral to talk to anyone.
Until this point, Mrs. Bro was amenable to taking a call from Trump but she was turned off when she saw a news clip of Trump. He blamed both sides for the violence. A grief-stricken elderly mother was so horrified by Trump’s equating the violent neo-Nazis with her daughter’s peaceful protest that she decided not to speak to the president. “It’s not that I saw somebody else’s tweets about him, I saw an actual clip of him at a press conference equating the protesters… with the [Ku Klux Klan] and the white supremacists,” she said on August 18. “You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m not forgiving that.”
At his August 15 press conference — a total disaster for Trump who was deeply agitated and acted like a street thug — he blatantly lied. He claimed Mrs. Bro had called to thank him for his statement! The grief-stricken mother of the slain woman told MSNBC on August 17 that she not only refused to speak to Trump but that she had received death threats after speaking out about her daughter’s death and the insensitive president’s comments, which she found deeply offensive.
A week later (August 19) when white supremacists called for another rally in Boston, supposedly in defence of “free speech,” a counter-protest was also organized. There were at most 100 white supremacists, corraled into a pen by the police for their protection. The counter-protesters numbered more than 30,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000, according to some reports. Hundreds of police were mobilized to ensure the two sides were kept apart. The white supremacist rally fizzled out after a couple of hours. Boston police had warned that they would not allow guns on the streets.
Trump may have let the genie out of the bottle. America may be heading for a civil war. Millions of Americans are heavily armed; many of them are deeply racists and would not hesitate to use them. While the US claims to be fighting terrorism abroad, it has a huge terrorism problem right at home. Welcome to the land of the free!