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As Educators, We Must Address This as The Crisis It Has Become: The NCCFT’s Statement on The Recent Events in Charlottesville

This past Friday night, when several hundred white supremacist men and women marched on the main quadrangle at the University of Virginia, they carried torches that recalled—and that were no doubt intended to recall—Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, and they chanted, “You will not replace us” and “Jew will not replace us,” setting in motion a series of events that led to the death on Saturday of counter-protestor Heather Heyer and the wounding of nineteen others. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Heyer’s family and friends, the family and friends of those who were wounded, and to the family, friends, and colleagues of the law enforcement officers—Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates—who died when the helicopter in which they were monitoring Saturday’s protest and counter-protest crashed. Our thoughts as well are with all the people of good will in Charlottesville, and with the students, faculty, administration, and staff of the University of Virginia, whose challenge now will be to confront in a healing way the lethal hatred those white supremacists embodied.

Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally—for which the march on Friday night served as prelude—was organized by white supremacist Jason Kessler to oppose Charlottesville’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. While symbols of the Confederacy have long been contested territory throughout the South—even more so since white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine African American men and women in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina—the larger implications of “Unite the Right” were articulated perhaps most clearly by David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. As quoted in The New York Times, Duke declared that Saturday’s protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump [to] take our country back.” White supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. revealed the ugliest and most honest face of those promises when he drove his car, after police had dispersed the “Unite the Right” rally, into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Ms. Heyer and wounding those nineteen others.

As educators, it is our responsibility not only to help our students understand the history of race and white supremacy in this country, but also to navigate, critically and responsibly, how our media, our political leaders, our public intellectuals and others are responding to these specific events—from the forceful condemnations spoken by, among others, Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Singer, and Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, to the thorough inadequacy of President Trump’s initial statements and the political gamesmanship of those whose job it is to spin those statements into something more appropriate to the situation. As NCCFT President Frank Frisenda put it, “Hatred has once again gained legitimacy in a dysfunctional segment of American society. We are obligated to address this problem in and out of our classrooms as the crisis it has become. As we prepare to do so, though, our thoughts, first and foremost, are with the victims and people of Charlottesville.”

14 Responses

  1. I found it ironic that as Alex Fields berated the police for lack of action, moments layer they were still willing to protect him from angry crowds. Obvious to me he is wrong. It was not the police that caused or inflamed this horrific episode.

  2. Did NCCFT make a statement similar to this condemning the recent violence at Berkley? Have we condemned the shootings of our legislators by a violent leftist earlier this summer? I hope the answer is “yes” and that I missed it.

    Perhaps we should reference ANTIFA violence in our condemnations as well? Don’t we owe our students and our community a full-throated condemnation of all politically-motivated violence, no matter the source?

    The statement we have made is a good start, but is incomplete, IMO.

  3. @ Mike Riedinger: There is a massive right wing/alt right/white supremacist movement in this country that has been identified by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as the greatest terrorist threat that this nation faces at present. As a colleague of yours who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, grew up all over this country, and has just completed a book about the threat of white supremacist groups to our democracy and to our pluralistic, egalitarian values, I hope you reconsider your view and arrive at a sense of proportion regarding these matters. There is no terrorist movement to violently target conservative congressional baseball players; there is a national terrorist movement targeting African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants and other groups they deem not white enough. Some of us feel committed to standing with those who are most threatened. I would also mention that congressional democrats rushed to condemn in no uncertain terms the act of violence against the Republican team. What are you doing in your statement above? A sense of proportion, please.

    I am proud of the NCCFT’s eloquent statement, and I believe most of us feel in unity with it.

    1. Professor Barnard: I completely agree with your comments and I appreciate the NCCFT statement. As a historian I am well aware of the horrendous actions of white supremacy groups in American and European history. Their large numbers and proclivity for violence is truly alarming. I personally know someone who was in Charlottesville this past weekend as a legal observer along with a reporter and other non-violent persons who were invited by local residents. Their stories provide a more comprehensive picture than what we have seen so far on television or in the print media. The neutral legal observer (who happens to be a white woman) was unarmed, did not confront the supremacists, and wore no distinguishing political attire or symbols, yet one of the supremacists threatened to gore her with a sharpened confederate flag pole. A member of Redneck Revolt intervened and protected her. She witnessed supremacists attacking the local police who were outnumbered and outgunned by hundreds of supremacists heavily armed with assault rifles, ammo, and other weapons. Many had sharpened the poles of their Nazi or Confederate flags. They attacked peaceful local clergy with brass knuckles, bats, and other weapons. They tried to attack peacefully meditating Quakers, but Antifa intervened to protect the Quakers. The reporter was physically unharmed but was in the crowd that was attacked by the vehicle. Teenagers from church youth groups were there as well. The “Unite the right”rally was a blatant attempt to terrorize and hold a city hostage as they took over public spaces like parks and churches.

      Prof. Reidinger, I condemn all forms of political violence, but the violence of Antifa can’t be compared with the violence that the extreme right inflicted on Charlottesville.

  4. Barbara, in answer to your question, I am condemning all political violence in our country, left and right. I invite you to join me.

  5. Hello, Paula. Glad to hear another voice condemn all political violence. Your second statement is not accurate, however. Antifa has been responsible for a long, long list of violent assaults over the past several years.
    The Tinley Park Five (actually eighteen, only five were charged), wherein Antifa invaded a restaurant and attacked families with crowbars:
    An assault at Berkley with a bike lock: https://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/05/24/berkeley-police-arrest-eric-clanton-bike-lock-assaults/
    Numerous violent assaults at Trump rallies (long article): http://www.marinij.com/general-news/20170304/pro-trump-rally-in-berkeley-turns-violent-10-arrested
    And of course, Charlottesville, where Antifa bloodied another reporter: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4785564/Reporter-punched-face-Charlottesville-rally.html#v-4031435515058306353

    Antifa is probably more dangerous than the idiot neo-Nazi groups, because they operate with the willing assistance of many who control the dialogue on hate groups in our country. You will not often hear anyone on cable or digital news mention (let alone decry)radical leftist violence. The governor of Virginia refuse to address the violence and instigation of the counter-protest.
    IMO, it is never a good idea to allow violent haters to operate without consequence.

    1. Michael,
      I doubt that we will agree on this issue. As a student of the past and present, I still believe that violent right-wing extremists pose a far more significant threat to our nation. They have even been cover by the President.

      1. Hi Paula, you are probably right, we will have to disagree on which is more dangerous in our country today. That is beside the point, though.

        My original thought was that both are dangerous, and that we have to be careful to address both threats, whether neo-Nazi or neo-Bolshevik. Ignoring one because it may seem a bit less dangerous doesn’t make sense to me.

        Also, the idea that the President has, or is, providing cover to right wing extremists is untrue. He has condemned both sides from the outset. Read his words, that is what he’s repeatedly said.

        There are violent lunatics on both sides, and we need to stop this immediately and get back to civil discourse. The alternative, fueled by today’s traditional and social media, is rather scary to consider.

        As educators, I believe it is our duty to fully inform our students about the dangers of political violence, and even political shaming, no matter the source. Diversity of opinion, competing ideas, civil discourse, these are among the most important values we gained from the Enlightenment.

        1. Hello Paula and Mike,
          Paula, I applaud your clearly stated points in your message. Mike, in reference to your comment above, I believe we are having a civil discourse right here regarding the diversity of opinion on an important issue.

          I would like to point out that “antifa” stands for anti-fascist. They, along with the Redneck Revolt chapters have the avowed purpose of trying to protect peaceful protesters, and thank goodness they were present to do this in Charlottesville; otherwise the fascists (some armed with guns, including AR-15 assault rifles), would most likely have caused far more casualties. I happen to be a Quaker myself, and I am stunned that anyone anyone could fault the brave souls who put their bodies in the way of those who would attack a group engaged in a silent vigil for peace.

          Please consider that the position you are advocating finds you to the right of the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, as well as many thoughtful conservative Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate who have spoken out against Trump’s equivocations and failure to provide much-needed moral leadership. Asa Hutchinson said today in an interview with NPR (and I paraphrase) that Trump has missed an opportunity for moral leadership. He also said quite clearly, and unequivocally, that there is no room for white supremacy or white nationalism in this country. To equate those risking their personal safety to protect others from violence with those seeking to commit the violence is a glaringly false equivalency.

          Asa Hutchinson also stated clearly that a young woman was killed while peacefully protesting against white supremacy and that this killing was an act of domestic terrorism. It’s very rare for me to be able to be proud of anything coming out of my birth state, but I was proud of Asa Hutchinson’s response to this tragedy, and I was proud of his forthright statement of his disappointment in his president’s failure to show the needed moral leadership.

          Additionally, I must say that I come from a military family (it’s that experience in my upbringing that led me to become a Quaker and raise my son as a Quaker). As a military “brat” and as an American whose family has, in every generation, fought in this country’s wars (from the American Revolution all the way up to the current generation and the war in Iraq), I must tell you that I believe the president’s views and equivocation dishonor the sacrifice of our brave veterans (including my father), and especially those veterans and forebears who fought against the Nazis in WWII. Most civilized people recognize with clarity that racist, white supremacist, white nationalist views and allegiances are not only profoundly immoral and dangerous but also profoundly uncivilized.

          This may sound like very assertive language. Good. I believe that anyone who does not share this view does not truly understand what is at stake. Have you ever stared into the face of a man with a gun aimed at you–his face contorted with hate–who believes that anyone who doesn’t agree with him deserves to die? I have. I don’t wish to do that man harm, but I do wish to take steps collectively and democratically to minimize the likelihood of his doing harm to innocent others. I don’t believe the person in the white house shares my concern here, and I’m dismayed that anyone would defend his lack of moral leadership. Also, to hear the Enlightenment invoked in this context without a clear condemnation of fascism generates for me a profound cognitive dissonance.

          Clearly we do not agree, but we have had a civilized discourse about the matter.

  6. Hi Barbara,

    We are having a civil discussion, and it is much appreciated on my end. When divergent ideas can no longer co-exist, be debated, weighed, supported or discarded, we are on the path to violence. Berkley, Tinley Park, Charlottesville are what happens when the talk ends.

    No reasonable person agrees with white-supremacists. Nor would any reasonable person agree that simply be born white makes you an oppressor. But we have, until now, allowed the lunatic fringe their freedom of speech. You and I both know why this has worked so well.

    Antifa stands for anti-fascist, and if you go for the packaging, it sounds great. When you look at what Antifa does, rather than what they say, you reach a different conclusion. When they smash people’s faces with bike locks or with the poles from their banners, or bear-spray a seventy-five year old man for wearing a MAGA hat, or raid a restaurant and assault diners randomly, as happened outside Chicago, they contradict the name. When they show up in Charlottesville armed with clubs and cement-filled soda cans, and assault reporters, on-lookers, and neo-Nazis. Well, then they show that they are fascists, regardless of what label they promote. Antifa does not show up to protect anyone, they show up to terrorize and intimidate. Just watch their assaults on Trump’s rallies during the campaign. They literally chased individuals through the streets and beat them down. Not protection, terror. No silent vigil, violent assault.

    My position is neither right nor left, it is common sense. Political violence must be called out and stopped, no matter the source. The Republicans that you mention who have condemned Trump are the same opportunists that pile on whenever it seems safe. Not the type of people who should be running things, IMO. Utterly without principle. But this is pretty obvious.

    I agree with you that the bastard who drove his car into the counter-protest, killing the young woman, was a domestic terrorist. Just like the Antifa members who have assaulted so many. They should all be tried and imprisoned.

    Again, this meme, that Trump equivocated, or gave cover to, or did anything but condemn the violence on both sides is objectively false. This isn’t even subject to debate, but it works great as a new way to try undermine the President, as we have seen.

    Here I will quote you: “have you ever stared into the face of a man with a gun aimed at you–his face contorted with hate–who believes that anyone who doesn’t agree with him deserves to die?” Yes, he was with Antifa.

    If you don’t see how Enlightenment principles support freedom of speech, I don’t know how to respond. I you can’t hate what someone says, yet defend their freedom to say it, I think you might be missing the point.

    On the other hand, I am sympathetic to those who viscerally (but not violently) oppose the haters. I am one of them. In this vein, I have a read a fair amount on the hate-speech laws in Canada, and I used to be a proponent.

    More recently I have begun to question whether those types of laws are safe in the long run. I’m not sure they can be contained. Is it hate speech to advocate for a well-controlled border? What about cuts in government spending? What about saying that simply being a white person is oppressive to others? Is that hate speech?

    Who should have the power to dictate to everyone else what they can and cannot say, or advocate or think? Perhaps IngSoc would be best?

    1. Number of people killed in the U.S. by white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist groups just since 9/11/2001 alone = 68. Want to guess how many they’ve killed overall?

      Total number of people killed in the U.S. by so-called “Antifa” anti-fascist groups = 0.

  7. Barbara, I just wanted to add that I agree with some of the ideas that the Charlottesville counter-protesters advocate. As Don Lemon said yesterday, putting up a statue of a Confederate general is like putting up a statue celebrating Bin Laden. It is the violence I condemn.

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