This past weekend, far-right activists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia in the US. The protests escalated and one of the far-right protesters drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, leaving 1 dead and 19 injured. The man has now been charged with murder.
The brutal murder of Heather Heyer, 32, which took place at a “Unite the Right” gathering, is just the latest disturbing proof that the far-right, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, should be considered a real threat. We often hear about Muslim extremists, but the media rarely covers the rise of far-right extremism to the same extent. The group in Charlottesville were planning to rally around a Confederate statue that the city council had planned to remove, claiming that its removal was “an effort to erase white history”. The number of attendees is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 people, making “Unite the Right” one of the largest gatherings of its kind in decades, bringing together a plethora of white nationalist groups for the first time.
While there are many terms for the far right hate groups that gathered in Charlottesville, they have one thing in common: they are often violently racist. If people do not band together to stop the far-right in their rapid advance, they will only grow stronger and more confident. It is widely known that a significant part of Trump’s supporters are known white supremacists. The fact that the US President failed to immediately denounce these groups by name shows how institutionalised this ideology has become. Rather, Donald Trump’s initial statement blamed ‘many sides’ for the violence. After two days of considerable political pressure, he conceded and specifically denounced white supremacy. The next day, however, he was back to blaming ‘both sides’, noting that on each side of the protest existed ‘very fine people’, and used the far-right term ‘alt-left’ to describe anti-racism counter protestors. Several white nationalists expressed their gratitude that Trump did not immediately condemn them. Former KKK leader, David Duke, wrote on Twitter: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa [Black Lives Matter/Anti-Fascists]”. This is clear evidence of how Trump’s position as president empowers the far-right.
When figures of authority, such as Trump, are hesitant to denounce the horrible actions and values that the far-right stand for, they will continue with impunity. Media coverage, and their move to unify fractured groups, helps their values and ideas gain traction. Studies show that young people in America are increasingly exposed to far-right extremist content online. All of these different factors, especially in the context of the country’s polarised political spectrum, contribute to the rising threat of the far-right.
These incidents, and the attitudes held by the people causing them, should set off alarm bells and flashing lights. These people are walking around in the streets with swastika-flags, shouting “Heil Trump!” and making Nazi-salutes. They are not hiding what they stand for. Yet, some people refuse to see how dangerous the far-right is becoming. They bury their heads in the sand and ignore the alarm bells. Have we already forgotten how Hitler rose to power and the horrible events that his rule brought about? Have we forgotten our responsibility as citizens and leaders to take on dangerous groups like these, who champion white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and hatred of anyone different from themselves?
At JAN Trust, we work tirelessly to fight radicalisation and attitudes like the ones expressed at “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville. We see daily the abuse that minorities and vulnerable people suffer, especially in terms of racism and Islamophobia. Our work aims to fight hate crime, online extremism, and to support vulnerable and minority women. Through the work we do, we are taking on our part of the responsibility in defeating attitudes like these – are you doing your part?
You can support our work and learn more by visiting www.jantrust.org