HOW OUR VIRGINIA LEADERS’ RESPONSES CAN SHAPE THE OUTCOME OF THE ELECTION
By: Alexander Shedd, Staff Writer
Protesters of the “Unite the Right” rally assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia’s on August 12th to protest the proposed removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, located centrally in Emancipation Park. They aligned themselves with the Alt-Right movement and abide by philosophies such as neo-Nazism and white supremacy. Many wore cardboard armor or riot gear as they made their way through Charlottesville.
According to the New York Times article, “Right and Left on Removal of Confederate Statues,” by Anna Dubenko, published in August 2017, this protest is not an isolated event; many cities in the United States with similar statues have drawn criticism for the perceived invocation of slavery and secession during a time of tense race and class relations. The night before the event, many of the protesters marched across the University of Virginia campus bearing tiki torches and makeshift weapons to the chant of “blood and soil,” which, according to historylearning.co.uk, is a translated German phrase popularized in the Nazi era meant to demonstrate a xenophobic and racial supremacist sentiment.
As counter protesters gathered, the central Charlottesville area quickly degraded into a chaotic scene, with hostilities rising and the protesters being given a notice to evict their designated protest area. The tensions resulted in multiple injuries and the fatality of counter protester Heather Heyer after a car driven by a Nazi sympathizer plowed into the crowd.
The event sent shockwaves throughout the country, specifically Virginia, which is currently in the midst of a gubernatorial election, which is quickly drawing to a close in November. Although few could have accurately predicted the return of significant organized factions aligned with Nazism and racism (although, according to an article titled “American Nazi Party Leader sees ‘A Real Opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency,” the organized American Nazi Party foresaw an opportunity for a “mainstream political presence” in 2017), the threat is essential to the future of Virginia, and therefore the imminent election. The election itself, one of the only major elections taking place on an “off year,” is an important waypoint to the 2018 midterms, which will demonstrate what level of confidence the voters have in Donald Trump’s Republican party.
Democratic nominee Ralph Northam, the current Lieutenant Governor to Governor Terry McAuliffe, responded the day of the rally, before Heyer’s tragic murder, urging counter protesters to not give an “ugly and violent” response, and calling the racist views of the protesters “ugly” in a statement released on his official Facebook page.
In the following days he continued his response by mourning with Charlottesville locals in Charlottesville’s Mount Zion First African Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, releasing an official statement telling the Charlottesville white supremacists to “go home and don’t come back,” as well as generally strongly denouncing white supremacy and fascism and offering his condolences to Heyer’s family, and ultimately releasing a second statement supporting the proposed removal of Charlottesville’s Lee statue and its transplantation into a museum. His statements have been well-received by the public and echoed by Senator Tim Kaine and Governor McAuliffe.
Republican nominee and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, conversely, has drawn considerable criticism for not denouncing President Trump’s highly controversial statement in which the President called many of the Charlottesville protesters “good people” and declared fault on “both sides” during a press conference aired on live television. In official statements, Gillespie condemned the protesters themselves, saying that “violence is not an acceptable form of expression,” and declaring that the protesters do not represent conservatism and do not fall onto the political spectrum.
Gillespie attended mass at Charlottesville’s Incarnation Catholic Church and extended condolences and regret to Heyer’s family. Ultimately, Gillespie released a statement through his official website advocating that the Confederate statues stay in place, although be placed in a more historically educational context, without detailing how he would do so.
Northam leads Gillespie by seven points in local election polls, as of data collected August 22. The election will take place on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017.
Photos Courtesy of Gracie Hall