Charlottesville Faces its Own Past After Rally Turns Deadly

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Residents of Charlottesville reeling after a white nationalist allegedly plowed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters turned their attention to the deep-seated divisions that may have attracted hate groups to the town in the first place.

“I think in a Southern city, Southern town, white supremacy is woven into the American DNA,” said Rev. Seth Wispelwey of the local United Church of Christ. “There’s a lot of unreconciled history that has gone unchallenged.”

Saturday’s gathering marked the fourth time since May that white nationalists have gathered to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and rename parks dedicated to Confederate leaders.

The statue’s location in Emancipation Park — formerly known as Lee Park — has become a meeting place for the conservative movement mixing racism, white nationalism and populism known as “alt-right.” This right-wing activism comes amid a renewed push across the South to remove Civil War-era symbols and names from public places.

Wispelwey, who has lived most in Charlottesville most of his life, and other locals were still processing the shock that washed over so many after white protesters and counter-protesters clashed in the heart of the city.

Most upsetting was when a silver Dodge Challenger drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring more than 30 people. Soon after, police arrested 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, and charged him with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of “hit and run attended failure to stop with injury.”

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Wispelwey said he began his Saturday by leading a group of clergy and faith-based leaders on a march. He, along with Jill Williams, a local teacher who marched with another clergy group, said they avoided areas where white nationalists were congregating and instead gathered with locals to counter hate groups.

Sean Clinchy, who lives in downtown Charlotte, said he felt it was important for residents to stand up and be counted.

“A lot of us felt that you had to show up and show there were more of us than them,” he said.

A number of locals who spoke with NBC News felt a need to participate in peaceful counter-rallies, but did not expect the violence even though they have witnessed months of building tensions.




Image: A young woman sits near a makeshift candlelight vigil

A young woman sits near a makeshift candlelight vigil for those who died and were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.