At the end of a bloody weekend, after one woman had died and several other people had been injured, Christopher Cantwell sat down in a hotel room and said: "I'd say it was worth it." A neo-Nazi who rails against blacks, Jews and immigrants, Cantwell is one of the organizers behind the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville -- and last week, he traveled to Virginia ostensibly to protest the dismantling of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Some of Cantwell's comrades wore steel helmets and homemade shields made of wood or plastic, making them look like an army of second-rate mercenaries.
Cantwell seemed euphoric as he showed a Vice News reporter, on camera, the weapons that he carried with him. An automatic rifle, two pistols in his belt and a third in an ankle holster, and a knife. Oh, and "I actually have another AK in that bag over there," Cantwell says. "You lose track of your fucking guns, huh?"
Those who may still have doubts as to how fanatic, how potentially violent the right wing has become in the United States should take the time to watch the Vice News piece. It shows white nationalists with torches on the eve of the demonstration: private militias in camouflage, apparently armed with automatic weapons, men waving swastika flags, anti-Semites, homophobes and fascists from across the country. They all swarmed into the liberal university town in rural Virginia.
It was a bellowing, braying mob of 500 right wingers, the largest collection of nationalists the U.S. had seen in years. A demonstration of hate, so obviously full of hostility and resentment that there could be no doubts about who was marching through the streets of Charlottesville. And then a car sped into a group of counterdemonstrators, driven by a right-wing supporter. One woman died, a 32-year-old legal assistant from Charlottesville named Heather Heyer, and 19 others were injured. The fanaticism and violence was so evident that it should have been clear to every politician that the only possible response was a clear condemnation of right-wing horror.
But what did U.S. President Donald Trump do? After the white nationalist rally reached its violent conclusion on Saturday, he said from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that "many sides" had been responsible for the escalation. According to Trump, it wasn't just the Nazis, but also the counterdemonstrators who had contributed to the violence. He placed right-wing radicals and their opponents on the same moral plain. What happened in Charlottesville was a catastrophe, but Trump quickly transformed it into a political scandal -- into an unforgivable disgrace to the office he holds.
Relativizing Neo-Nazi Violence
It took him until Monday to read out a carefully formulated statement in which he condemned hate, fanaticism and violence and spoke of the equality of all before the law and God and of the love and unity of all Americans. He also explicitly condemned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white nationalists. His new Chief of Staff John Kelly apparently had to convince him to make that statement. But then, one day later, he took it all back and made the situation even worse.