Since Saturday, Charlottesville, Virginia has been on everyone’s mind. The decision to remove a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park stirred discontent among white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, prompting a rally called “Unite the Right.” A large group of counter protesters gathered in opposition to the rally and violence ensued. Punches were thrown on both sides as tempers flared, and then the unimaginable happened. A car drove into the group of anti-protesters, hitting another car, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. In one of the numerous videos, you can clearly see the car fly into the crowd, hit another car, and back out to get away. In another, you can see many people injured and calling for help.
The big question we have to ask is why. Why did James Alex Fields drive his car into a group of protesters?
Earlier that day, the New York Times reports that Fields was seen with members of Vanguard America, and there is a picture of Fields with the group. However, on the Twitter page for the VA is an official tweet dated Aug. 12, in which the group disassociates itself from Fields. In the statement the group explains the picture, saying the “shields were handed out freely to all in attendance,” and neither the shirts nor the shields “denote membership.”
But when reading the group’s page, one cannot help but feel confronted by hate and racism. A tweet from Aug. 9 shows a poster for VA that says, “Lying Press,” and underneath is a man, presumably the press, shouting words like feminism, holocaust, white guilt, race mixing and homosexuality. Further down the page are more tweets about racism, fascism and general hate speech about everyone who is not white, male, and middle-class. How can we expect to promote solid community values and avoid hate crimes such as the one in Charlottesville when groups are spreading such virulent hate?
While the group may not have held his hand and encouraged his acts directly, it is easy to see how Fields could have been influenced to harm or kill others. According to an interview with a Mr. Weimer by the NYT, Fields wrote a report in school that seemed to fall “very much along the lines of the neo-Nazi movement.”
The events from both sides before and after the hate crime and the public views and proclamations of all involved bring out many questions on the differences between free speech and hate speech, legal protests and illegal ones. Even the differences between what is legally right and what is socially acceptable come into play here. Hate and anger have arisen from both the far right and the far left, and unfortunately the anger multiplies and continues in vicious cycles of rallies and protests that go on seemingly without end. This country has developed many groups from the left and the right, and they fight each other verbally, online and in person.
The so-called rallies of the right-wing and neo-Nazi groups antagonize the left-wing groups such as antifa, leading to counter-protests. The favor is soon returned in kind with protests and more rallies. These events can escalate to violence between the groups quickly: On Aug. 6, a Trump rally that began at Salmon Street Springs was met with anti-protesters and quickly turned violent. At this point, it seems that we are getting nowhere. We are heading backwards and quickly and dividing this country. The words from a popular Buffalo Springfield song come to mind in this case: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
While conservatives and liberals have many nonviolent members, all groups also have many radical members out to destroy property, propagate violence, and in the case of Fields, commit hate crimes and acts of murder. How much farther will we have to go before we learn to live and let live, be the peace and enact change through deed and unity rather than push our anger and hate at each other and continue to live in pain and mistrust?
Our country was founded on ideas of unity; the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall,” written in 1768 by John Dickinson in his “Liberty Song,” speaks volumes about original American ideals. How can we let hate divide us and allow us to forget what we are working toward? Importantly, the ideas of hate, white supremacy and intolerance are nowhere to be found in the origins of our country. Instead, the U.S. was founded on freedom and equality by many people with many beliefs and points of view. Preaching hate allows divisions to widen, and fighting the hate with violence does nothing to abate it, but instead allows it to take root and grow.
Could Field’s hate crime have been prevented? The rampant racism and bigotry that are a part of the groups influencing people like Fields are problems that need to be addressed openly.
How can we move forward when there are so many people projecting incorrect and antiquated ideas about race, sex, gender, and nationality? The ideas of unity that all groups try to push can only work if we all work together for them. This country can be unified again, but only if we learn to stop fighting with ourselves and start working together to make changes. As long as groups like VA are allowed to push hate speech and promote the ideas of bigotry and groups like antifa are ready to fight back with yelling and violence, we will not move forward. The riots, rallies and protests need to stop. We need to find a way to set aside our problems with each other and practice tolerance, so we do not breed any more hate, and so tragedies like the one on Saturday in Charlottesville do not happen again.