ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Organizers of Saturday’s deadly white nationalist rally say they are planning to return to Charlottesville for a future rally and to file lawsuits against city and state authorities for allegedly failing to protect their gathering.
But first, they must cope with a psychic shock: feeling betrayed by government authorities they believed would always protect them. Before this weekend’s events, the alt-right had been a bastion of pro-police sentiment – especially when it came to police shootings of unarmed black victims and clashes with the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, the alt-right’s leaders are grappling with the realities of being identifiable members of an unpopular minority group in public.
“I have never felt like the government or police were against me,” said white nationalist leader Richard Spencer at a small press conference inside his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday afternoon. “There has never been a situation in my life when I’ve felt this way.”
Jason Kessler, the Charlottesville rally’s organizer, was also reeling. “This has changed everything,” he said. “I thought that the police would uphold constitutional law no matter what.”
Kessler claimed the city’s police failed to follow through on plans for protecting the rally that they had discussed with him. He also said that during planning for the rally, one police captain divulged to him that authorities were communicating about the event using their personal emails to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests.
Following Saturday’s violence, Kessler attempted to hold a press conference on Sunday in front of Charlottesville’s city hall but was foiled by anti-racism demonstrators, some of whom physically attacked him. Kessler criticized Virginia state troopers — who intervened after a scuffle broke out — for not taking more proactive steps to protect him.
“Even the lefties are astonished that the police apparently must’ve been ordered to just stand aside,” said white nationalist Jared Taylor, who has been called “the intellectual godfather of the alt-right” and monitored the weekend’s events from afar. “There wasn’t even a single arrest when Jason Kessler was assaulted. What were the police doing?”
Another alt-right activist who participated in the rally, Pax Dickinson, expressed similar frustration. “I blame the rank-and-file cops for being cowards who obey unlawful orders,” said Dickinson, a former CTO of Business Insider and former business partner of the Pro-Trump internet troll Charles Johnson. “But the orders came from higher up.”
Dickinson, whose Twitter account was suspended on Monday, said he believes attendees of the pro-white rally were victims of a government “conspiracy to deny civil rights.”
“There wasn’t a conspiracy,” responded a spokeswoman for the Charlottesville Police Department, Miriam Dickler.
Dickler said that under Virginia law, use of a personal email would not shield communications from FOIA requests and that it was in fact rally attendees who failed to follow the security plan. “Police did coordinate with Mr. Kessler,” she said. “They had coordinated for his folk to come in from the back of the park. That did not happen. That’s really all I can say about that.”
Kessler said that alt-right organizers had received legal advice from lawyers outside of Virginia and were searching for a lawyer in-state to help them bring suit against authorities for their handling of the weekend’s events. The Virginia State Police did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the feelings of betrayal, it does not appear that the experience has caused white nationalists to fundamentally reevaluate their worldviews. Spencer repeatedly dodged questions about whether his weekend experience has made him more sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and members of minority groups who have claimed unfair treatment at the hands of police. Instead, he attacked the strawman notion that there is a nationwide police conspiracy to murder black people. But, he added, “I did have much more faith in the police in general before this weekend.”
After two abortive attempts to hold the event at hotels in downtown Washington, Spencer moved the press conference to his book-strewn, two-story apartment, where a smashed hard-boiled egg sat in a pot of water on the stove. There, he also expressed his disappointment with Fox News. Calling up a screenshot from the network on the flat-screen television on the wall of his living room, Spencer faulted Fox for running stock footage of an unrelated Ku Klux Klan gathering while discussing Saturday’s rally, which he felt unfairly mischaracterized the alt-right.
Though Saturday’s rally was replete with Confederate paraphernalia and Confederate sympathies run high in the alt-right, Spencer also struck a notably Unionist line in condemning alleged city and state efforts to sabotage the rally even after a federal judge ordered Charlottesville to grant Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally a permit to assemble. “That is technically speaking a rebellion against the federal government, which obviously has authority over the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.
Spencer said that he “100 percent” plans to hold another rally in Charlottesville, to show that his movement will not be silenced, though he did not announce a date. He had been scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University on September 11, but administrators cancelled the event. Spencer might, however, be speaking at the University of Florida on September 12, according to the school’s president.
Spencer said he was unimpressed by Trump’s Monday statement condemning Nazis and the KKK, calling it “nonsense” and “silliness.” He said he did not believe Trump — who explicitly condemned white supremacy only after days of criticism for his failure to do so — was making the statement sincerely and said he does not believe the president had condemned his movement, pointing out that he did not use the term “white nationalists.” White House advisers Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller may be “fellow travelers” of his movement, he said, even though most other members of the Trump administration, like U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were not.
Spencer declined to condemn James Fields Jr. — the Ohio man who crashed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing anti-racism demonstrator Heather Heyer — saying that he will wait for more information and claiming to have seen video suggesting the young man may have been fleeing violent attacks from anti-fascist or “Antifa” demonstrators.
Spencer did, however, condemn his critics on the right, many of whom lacerated the president for his initial statement about the events in Charlottesville. “The conservatives are a bunch of idiots,” he said. “I don’t care about them anymore.” Spencer said he believes conservatives resent him because he is more “intelligent” and “attractive” than they are.
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