The city of Charlottesville, Virginia was overtaken this weekend by violent, white supremacist protesters. The inciting incident, a "Unite the Right" rally at the university campus in town, led to an emotional and overwhelming national response. But if you're looking to make sense of it all and wondering exactly what happened in Charlottesville and what it all really means, here's a bit of an explainer.
The clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters began Friday night, and by Sunday, had completely captured the nation's attention. People are certainly right to pay attention to this incident — according to Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, this was "the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade" and "the most violent as well."
There's nothing normal or ordinary about this situation, so it's critical to stay up to date on the news as it unfolds. Don't be afraid to ask questions or talk to the people you trust, and if no one in your social circle is sure what's going on either, make an effort to get news literate together. What's happening right now is too important to ignore, because silence is violence.
Here's what you need to know.
Where Is Charlottesville?
The small city of Charlottesville, Virginia, is located about two and a half hours from Washington D.C., in the north-central part of the state. Until now, its biggest claim to fame was the University of Virginia, one of the top ranked public universities in the country.
How Did The Violence Get Started?
A "Unite the Right" rally was planned for Saturday, intending to organize far-right conservatives who share similar racist ideologies. Some participants showed up on the University of Virginia campus Friday night to get an early start.
Counter-protesters quickly came to voice their concerns, and conflict between the two opposing sides started shortly thereafter.
What All Has Happened?
At least three have been killed and dozens injured in separate events over the past two days.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Charlottesville, was killed and 19 others were injured when a driver careened his car into a group of counter-protestors.
Two state troopers also died when their helicopter crashed while providing tactical support to local authorities, and scattered incidents of violence have wounded at least 15 other people, according to CNN.
Who Organized The Rally?
A Charlottesville local, Kessler reportedly planned the event to protest the city's plan to remove a prominent statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
How Are Conservative Media Outlets Reporting On This Story?
One Fox News headline called the event a "white nationalist rally," but didn't interview any of the participants to highlight their actual views. The headline also focused on how the rally was "blamed" for the deaths. Fox News also produced this clip, which sanitizes the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and ignores his calls for radical social change.
However, the majority of the article focused on the actions of the counter-protesters or the alleged unfairness of those who are infringing on the white supremacists' freedom of speech.
What Have The Police Done?
People have criticized the police for not doing enough to prevent the violence. A report from a ProPublica reporter claimed that Virginia state troopers and Charlottesville police officers "did nothing" in the face of violent incidents.
Charlottesville vice mayor Wes Bellamy defended the police:
What Is Antifa?
You may have seen the word Antifa in connection with the rally — it stands for "Anti-Fascists," and it's a far-left group of counter-protesters who came to the rally in full force.
Is This Really Because Of Trump?
Trump condemned the attacks, but blamed the "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." The mayor of Charlottesville directly connected this incident with the Trump campaign, stating in an interview this weekend that he places the blame "right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president."
But pretending like there wasn't violent racism in America before Trump won't do anyone any good — Trump just created the illusion that this kind of hatred is socially acceptable.
Is This Terrorism?
People don't often hear the word terrorism in connection with anything other than a brown man, but former attorney general Eric Holder may have said it best.
"If ISIS rammed a car into a crowd this would be labeled quickly & logically. Charlottesville — call it what it is, domestic terrorism," Holder tweeted Saturday.
Is It Fair To Call The Participants White Supremacists?
Yes. While no one can say for sure the values that each person participating in this march holds in their heart, their collective actions earn them a collective label.
What Can I Do?
Now that you know what's happening, spread awareness. The country can't come together and heal unless people are denouncing hate and projecting love, so get to tweeting, texting, and calling as soon as you can.
If you have the money, you can also donate to the Charlottesville NAACP or Beloved Community Charlottesville, which was created directly in response to the Unite the Right Rally. Be sure to check your local media outlets too — many communities are organizing solidarity vigils for the counter-protesters.
No matter what, remember that your fight will last long after this rally is over. It's everyone's responsibility to fight off hate and terror as much as they can, so don't give up, even when this news story has died down.