Yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia serve as a chilling reminder of our nation’s troubled past, and present. Many of us would like to think that the racism, hate, ignorance, and terror that we saw yesterday should be confined to history books and lecture, but instead, as if the images were ripped from those very same history books, we saw enormous crowds marching with torches ablaze, in what became nothing short of a shameful and violent riot. It cannot be said clearly enough: The actions and words of these white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and whatever other title or ideology of hate that engaged in yesterdays events are despicable, reprehensible, deplorable, and should be viewed as nothing less than among the most putrid and vile filth of humanity.
Saturday, August 12, 2017, hundreds, if not more, had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the local government’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate war “hero.” There they met scores of counter-protesters, and violence erupted. Many came prepared for violence with improvised riot gear and weapons. After hours of brawling and a declared state of emergency, the night reached its flash point when a 20 year old male from Ohio drove his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, resulting in a death and many injuries.
But, what can be done to prevent something like this from happening again? What can be done to prevent Jason Kessler, a leader of the Alt-Right and organizer of yesterday’s events, from following through on his commitment to continue planning “bigger and bigger events in Charlottesville?” Unfortunately, there aren’t many great answers to this question.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment guarantees all Americans an unequivocal right to “freedom of Speech” and a right to “peacefully assemble,” among much more. The unfortunate truths, however, are that hate speech is explicitly protected under the First Amendment, and that peaceful protests are peaceful, right up to the point where they are no longer peaceful. The First Amendment has no requisite for correctness or politeness. And sure, law enforcement can help the cause by maintaining a large presence at these rallies and by quickly detaining those who proceed to commit crimes, but little can be done to prevent these rallies from occurring at all.
During the course of yesterday’s events, I recalled something Ted Cruz had said in a Senate hearing a few months back. While the topic of that day’s discussion had nothing to do with yesterday’s “Unite the Right” rally, its message is equally applicable and true. I’ve shortened the clip to applicable segment below:
Donald Trump has received a good deal of criticism throughout this event. In the early stages of the outbreak, media outlets and those taking to Twitter criticized the President and, more generically, the White House for not voicing out about the event. Then Donald and Melania Trump sounded off on Twitter:
Many then criticized the President for not saying enough. Trump then went on to speak in front of cameras, for roughly 15 minutes. Among his opening thought, he said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” His Twitter account recapped some of the “highlights” of his presser, the general idea posed as:
Many are still calling on Trump to clearly denounce, without misdirection, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK, and the other groups and ideologies of racism and hate. Frankly, I see absolutely no reason that he cannot. Most troubling is that this is not the first time we have seen Trump’s unwillingness to denounce racist groups. During the campaign, Trump was incredibly slow to denounce David Duke and the KKK’s endorsement, simply deflecting by saying that he did not know David Duke. Being pressed, he then went on further to say:
“Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group up that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow them if I thought there was something wrong. But you may have groups in there that are totally fine and it would be very unfair.”