The long-stewing white supremacist movement resurrected on the internet and ennobled by Trump’s presidential campaign reared its ugly head in Charlottesville on Saturday, when an alt-right demonstrator drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of socialist activists. Video of the event is shocking. We see hundreds marching down a street, chanting and holding banners, as many of them have undoubtedly done many times before. We see the shocked silence when the car collides with the crowd, how everyone freezes in momentary disbelief.
Even members of the alt-right were disgusted by this attack. A post on 4chan’s notoriously racist /pol/ board reads, “Things were fine when it was just memes and stopping SJWs. But this? This is killing. This is murder.” Many alt-righters were undoubtedly shaken when they realized that the ideology they had been ironically supporting was in fact a violent one.
We can hope that this event will cause those on the alt-right to come around, to have a moment of clarity. For many it likely will. But these isolated turnarounds mean nothing if they don’t lead to broader, institutional change, and the language I’ve seen from influential conservatives in the aftermath of this tragedy has not inspired confidence. Senators John McCain and Ted Cruz released statements which invoked the founding philosophy of America, that “all men are created equal”, and seem to imply that this value is under attack by the white supremacist demonstrators. But this idea was not true the day that the Declaration of Independence was written, and it remains untrue today. To pretend that all men and women in America have equal opportunity erases America’s shameful past and whitewashes its troubled present.
If McCain and Cruz were serious about making sure that all Americans were equal, they would have opposed Trump’s Muslim ban. They would have spoken out when Jeff Sessions brought private prisons and the drug war back from the grave, or done something to oppose Trump when he hired white nationalists as advisors. Instead, they supported nearly all of his cabinet nominees and policies. They see this clear terrorist attack as a problem but are blind to the things that caused it, things that they are complicit in.
It’s natural that politicians don’t want to admit their own guilt and complicity in white supremacy. It’s easier that way. But the easy way won’t fix anything.
The protesters that were targeted in Charlottesville understood that. The car that barreled into that crowd violently injured members of the DSA, IWW and other radical leftist organizations. Those organizations recognized the risk of confronting neo-Nazis but marched anyway, because they understood that hate isn’t defeated by strongly worded press releases, but instead by direct action. They aren’t glorifying some ideal of America that never existed, but instead are focused on making it great for the first time. It’s time to follow the lead of these activists who put their lives on the line and oppose white supremacy on all fronts. The impotent, symbolic opposition that many politicians, especially Republicans, have taken to this issue can’t be tolerated any longer, and those that have enabled this rise of fascism own it just as much as the fascists do.
Chastain-Howley is a writing and rhetoric senior from Dallas. He is an associate editor.