EPeak Daily

The Ugly, Violent Clichés of White-Supremacist Terrorism

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Smoke dissolving into a night sky. Bright light from torches reflected
on faces. Those faces stretched into snarls. The images out of
Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday and Saturday are unsettling—but
also pathetic, also exasperating—for their boring timelessness. There’s
little less original than white racists shouting in the heat.
Everybody’s seen the shape of these crowds; everybody knows the list of
their grievances. The “Unite the Right” rally, with its secondhand
slogans—“blood and soil,” “Jew will not replace us”—and its hand-me-down
flags was still less shocking given Charlottesville’s recent history.
Back in May, Richard Spencer, America’s latest smirking white
supremacist, led a march of the so-called alt-right on the city. Just last month, members of the
Ku Klux Klan took their turn.
More regrettable visual clichés: stars and bars, tear gas and riot
masks. Both groups claimed as inspiration another image, as old and
iconic, in its way, as their cause: the form of Robert E. Lee astride
his horse. Charlottesville’s city council voted to sell the statue of
the general that stands at Lee Park, renamed Emancipation Park, and the
ensuing chaos—a summer-long reactionary tantrum—has yet to wane.

A friend of mine, who’s black, was in Charlottesville in May, and,
walking home, ran into Spencer’s protest. He was frozen by the
torchlight, awed, almost, by the pagan intensity of the crowd’s idol
worship, and had to shake himself out of a daze before he ran. He soon
skipped town for a while—he’d been there for months, on a fellowship—the
whole time dreading going back. Unsurprising, sure, all of it, but
terror all the same—and, in the terrorist’s derivative way, soaking up
more recent tropes: when, on Saturday, a car rammed into a crowd of
peaceful counterprotesters, it was impossible not to associate the act,
and the death it caused,
with similar vehicular attacks, in Nice and in London.

Here, today, is the President: “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. It’s been going on for a
long, long time.” But, of course, as regards this weekend—and other
weekends, eerily alike—there is really only one side. A photo by Samuel
Corum for Anadolu Agency presents it as it is. An all-white crowd of
older men and women, but mostly college-aged kids, carrying,
idiotically, torches used to keep mosquitoes out of nice families’ back
yards. Orange light defines the outlines of their heads. A kid in a
too-big white polo, black T-shirt underneath, is in the middle of a
shout, like some upset Nazi toddler. A forelock hangs down; the wind
might carry it into his eye. Which awful word sits on that half-shadowed
tongue? He looks ridiculous, but even in the silence of the picture, his
motives are clear. Trump knows, too—he’s too American not to recognize
them—and yet he doesn’t say.

Sometimes it takes David Duke to point out the obvious: “We’re going to
fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Those and other, older promises
as well.

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