Charlottesville in the Context of American Violence



Donald Trump’s statement on the violence in Charlottesville, VA

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”

By now we have all seen the horrific scenes of a gray mass of almost two tons of metal crashing through a Charlottesville street.  We have seen alt-right “warriors” in a torch light parade, clearly a direct reference to torchlight gatherings of the Nazi party in pre-WWII Germany, where modern day American supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

Is it any wonder that David Duke, founder of the 1974 version of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and long-time American Nazi fellow traveler, was overjoyed by the events of last weekend in Virginia? As he said at Charlottesville,

We are determined to take our country back,” Duke said from the [Charlottesville] rally, calling it a “turning point.”

He also added to the chagrin, possibly, of the White House:

We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.

So, we now have a boisterous, asshat of a president who will threaten N. Korea with annihilation at the drop of a twitter, who is also the candidate who lambasted candidate Clinton and President Obama, much to the delight of his campaign crowds, for not using the term “Islamic Terrorist.”

But, he is now the president who is too timid to call out the white supremacists, Nazis, and Klan who lit the flames of violence in Charlottesville, and is unwilling to name the murder in Charlottesville as an act of “Domestic or White Supremacist Terrorism.”

[See my earlier post — for a more extended discussion of our national hesitancy to think in terms of “domestic terrorism.”]

Instead, we get “….violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. 

The only part of that statement that is historically correct is that we have seen this type of violence, which we all thought was a thing of the past, for a “long time in this country.”

As one of the professors, a fine urban historian for whom I was a teaching assistance in graduate school, told one of our students, “Our society is a kick-ass society.” True. However, the “many sides” of President Trump’s statement about violence “on many side” violence is not a complete falsehood, but it is something of an rash overstatement.

We have a history of what some would consider leftist violence in America.  It has largely been associated with the labor movement, especially among mine workers, and was arguably better classified as “economic violence” rather than ideological violence.

While many of these episodes were violence against strikers and organizers. However, some of this violence, even some horrific events like The Herrin Massacre of 1922, had strike-breakers as victims.  A list of the occurrences of labor violence in the country can be found at

In addition, we do have a history, of black nationalist violence, recently resuscitated in the targeting of police by individuals seemingly identified as ascribing to black nationalist ideology. (See

However, images of the most enduring tradition of social and political violence we find in this country were on full display in Charlottesville.  That history is filled with “White Supremacist Terrorism,” exactly the sort of acts that fill the dark dreams of today’s nationalists, white supremacists, or white rights activists, who are a subset (maybe even the core) of the current alt right in this nation.

This type of terrorism included lynchings that splashed the blood of approximately 4,000 people of color across 20 of the 48 states during the mid-19th and early 20th century in the United States.

[See for a full report on lynching and you might also see my own work from 30 years ago, “Exploring relations among forms of social control: The lynching and execution of Blacks in North Carolina, 1889-1918,” Law & Soc’y Rev. 1987, 21: 361]

We Americans must face the uncomfortable fact that mass violence events in American history are almost always been about race or ethnicity. With few exceptions (arguably what are categorized as “race riots” from the 1940s to the present day), these were violent acts of White Supremacist Terrorism. As such, they were whites involved in “illegal acts intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” as part of the Patriot Act definition of terrorism puts it.

What other than White Supremacy Terrorism does one call:

  • the Wilmington Riot of 1898 in which North Carolina Democrats used racial animus to move African American out of politics by spreading tales of interracial rape.  During this “race riot,” approximately 500 whites burned the offices of a newspaper of an editor so bold as to say that interracial sex could be consensual. They also killed 14 African-americans.
  •  the Ocoee Massacre that began when an African American tried to vote in the 1920 presidential election and resulted in the deaths of approximately 50 African-Americans and enough terror to drive all other African Americans out of the city for 60 years.

And, a wealth of other such well-documented events.

[see  for a list of events involving racial violence and also see my earlier post on this blog concerning the history of American racial violence at]

After this quick trip through a terrible part of American history, it should be clear to all just how anemic and insipid a response the president’s statement truly was. At a time when we face a strengthening wind of racism and the increasing potential for white supremacist terrorism, all our “heroic” president can say is:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”

To appropriate and distort a common sayingThis guy is obviously part of the problem, not part of the solution. 


NOTE: Review the contents of other posts on the blog by perusing the blog Table of Contents — By Topic at this URL


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