Why hate came to the progressive island of Charlottesville

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charlottesville Why hate came to the progressive island of Charlottesville Why hate came to the progressive island of Charlottesville gettyimages 831158986
Andrew
VanBuesking (L) watches as his daughter Avi, 2, marks on the
street with chalk during a vigil where 32-year-old Heather Heyer
was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting
against the white supremacist Unite the Right rally August 13,
2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Getty Images

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The white nationalists behind last
weekend’s violent rally found an appealing target in the historic
town where Thomas Jefferson founded a university and an
outspoken, progressive mayor declared his city the “capital of
the resistance” to President Donald Trump.

For more than a year, the Charlottesville government has also
been engaged in contentious public soul searching over its
Confederate monuments, a process that led to the decision to
remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

All those factors made this community a symbolically powerful
backdrop for what’s considered the largest white nationalist
gathering in at least a decade.

“We are a progressive, tolerant city. We are also a Southern
city,” Mayor Mike Signer said. About a year and a half ago,
Charlottesville “decided to launch on the difficult but essential
work of finally telling the truth about race. That made us a
target for tons of people who don’t want to change the
narrative.”

On the eve of Saturday’s rally, hundreds of white men marched
through the University of Virginia campus, holding torches and
chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next morning, many
looked like they were dressed for war as they made their way to
Emancipation Park.

They clashed with counter-protesters in a stunning display of
violence before authorities forced the crowd to disperse. Later,
a car plowed into a crowd of demonstrators, killing 32-year-old
Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

With a population of around 47,000, Charlottesville is a
progressive island in a conservative part of Virginia.

The funky, cosmopolitan town is nestled in the rolling foothills
of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known for being home to
Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, and the place where the Dave
Matthews Band got its start.

The heart of its downtown is an open-air pedestrian mall lined
with restaurants, bars and quirky boutiques. Tourists flock to
Charlottesville not only for the history and culture but also to
visit the wineries that dot the countryside just outside of town.

Charlottesville was easily overwhelmed by the numbers that showed
up Saturday, said Ed Ayers, a leading Civil War scholar who
taught at UVA for decades before moving to Richmond.

Despite Virginia’s bloody part in the Civil War, Ayers said, the
Lee statue does not have a significant historical connection to
Charlottesville. The city “did not play a central role in the war
at all, he explained, and the statue was not erected until the
1920s, when Jim Crow laws were eroding the rights of black
citizens.

Charlottesville was just “a very clear symbol they could go to
and have a protest,” Ayers said.


University of Virginia vigil Why hate came to the progressive island of Charlottesville Why hate came to the progressive island of Charlottesville 20900972101557025436583312571245472461669837o
A
vigil at the University of Virginia.


UVA
Facebook



The city is proud of Jefferson’s university, a prestigious school
with graduates that include prominent figures such as Robert F.
Kennedy. But UVA is also a school largely built by slaves and
where professors had ideological connections to the resistance
movement that followed the Brown vs. Board of Education school
desegregation decision.

The university did not admit black students until 1950. Last
year, figures provided by the school show only 6 percent of
students were black.

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer — a UVA grad who was one
of the most high-profile speakers lined up for the rally — echoed
Ayers’ perspective. He said that the Confederate monuments are a
metaphor for something “much bigger,” referring to “white
dispossession and the de-legitimization of white people in this
country and around the world.”

Saturday was not Spencer’s first demonstration in
Charlottesville. In May, he was among another torch-wielding
group that rallied around the statue at night, chanting, “You
will not replace us.” Later that month, local right-wing blogger
and UVA graduate Jason Kessler applied for the permit for
Saturday’s event.

Then, in July, about 50 Ku Klux Klan members rallied at the
statue, where they were met by more than 1,000 protesters. That,
too, made national news.

Oren Segal, director of Anti-Defamation League’s Center on
Extremism, said hate groups are eager to exploit media attention.

“When they saw a built-in opportunity to build off the other two
rallies, it was clear they decided, ‘This is the place. We’re
going to get more attention here,’” he said.

Virginia’s closely watched governor’s race, one of only two in
the nation this year, also helped draw attention.

Republican Corey Stewart successfully made the statue’s proposed
removal a key talking point in the GOP primary, which he almost
won despite being an underdog.

Stewart, a one-time state chairman of Trump’s campaign, made
several campaign stops in Charlottesville. At least one public
appearance was with Kessler.

Katie Straight, who stood outside the downtown theater Wednesday
where a memorial service for Heyer took place, agreed that the
city’s “democratic” discussion about what to do with the statues
had contributed to the scope of what happened Saturday.

“I also think that you have a group of angry people in this
country who are looking for a place to physically terrorize those
who might challenge their legacy of power,” Straight said. “And
Charlottesville, in this historic moment, happens to be that
place. I hope and pray it’s the last place, but I don’t think it
will be.”

___

Associated Press Writer Alan Suderman in Richmond contributed to
this report.



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