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Fecteau: The Name Game in Charlottesville

Monday, August 14, 2017


PHOTO: Rodney Dunning/Flickr

The violence and the groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend should be condemned in the harshest possible terms. Emboldened by recent political events, white supremacists flocked to Charlottesville, Virginia weekend to protest the scheduled removal of a monument of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Holding torches in hand, these white supremacist protestors clashed with the counter protesters in a terrifying, violent scene. Our current political leaders – especially President Donald Trump – need to name and shame the groups in this violence in the harshest terms.

What isn’t reported widely enough is the individual who organized this event, Mr. Jason Kessler, is a pro-Trump, alt-right activist. Because of its white nationalist appeal, this alt-right protest obviously attracted other hate groups such as Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists which are the result of a cultural backlash – the same cultural backlash that helped elect President Donald Trump.

Thankfully leaders did come out to condemn these groups and the demented ideology in Charlottesville. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) specifically called out these groups via Twitter saying “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It's the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be. #Charlotesville [sic]” Mrs. Hillary Clinton specifically condemned “white supremacists” that were responsible for this violence. This is a fitting condemnation, naming and shaming the groups and ideology involved. The violent protests in Charlottesville are a disgrace, and the groups responsible need to be condemned.

However, one voice seriously lacking was Mr. Trump’s own. He was surprisingly much more reserved in his condemnation refusing to name the groups involved or the ideology. As president, if Mr. Trump simply acknowledged and condemn the groups that were involved in this violence, that would have gone a long way to undermine their support. Instead, while Mr. Trump called for unity in another Tweet, Mr. Trump generically stated via Twitter, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides."

Mr. Trump’s lack of condemnation is particularly odd considering he known for his blunt critiques. Mr. Trump disparaged everyone from women to Mexicans. In fact, days before these protests, Mr. Trump even patronized U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell by telling him to “go back to work” via Twitter. Mr. Trump even proudly embraced the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" for a time.

So why is an individual known for is tough denigration unable or unwilling to criticize the white supremacists inciting this violence? Some speculate that Mr. Trump didn’t want to offend his predominantly white, nationalist base. Many of the white nationalists involved in this protest including Mr. Kessler are among Mr. Trump’s core supporter base so it makes sense.

Mr. Trump needs to stop paying empty lip service to unity, and go back to the politics of division (that is what he is good at). The groups involved in these protests are stoked by the very hatred that propelled Mr. Trump to victory – Mr. Trump even received an endorsement from the KKK.  I don’t believe Mr. Trump is a racist, but his supporter based (while not all of them) is made up of a number of racists, bigots, and xenophobes for a reason: Mr. Trump’s policy platform (e.g. Muslim ban, a border wall) embraces people that want to divide us (the same people involved in these violent protests).

Mr. Trump should harshly name and shame the groups involved in this protest, not simply saying it is “on many sides, on many sides.” There is far more “hatred” on one side than exists on the other because it was energized by Mr. Trump’s flirtation with policies that embrace divisiveness. For as Rubio mentioned, these violent protests are the direct opposite of what America should represent.

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a Democratic candidate for office in 2014 and 2016. He is an M.P.A. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and an Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau  


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