Hours before plowing his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters, killing one and wounding 19 others, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the driver reportedly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of white supremacists carrying a shield emblazoned with the insignia of one particular group. But what is Vanguard America? The white nationalist organization allegedly helped Jason Kessler organize Saturday's "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville.
Vanguard America is a white nationalist group that opposes the idea of a multicultural America and characterizes themselves as the "face of American fascism." On its website the group claims "our people are subjugated while an endless tide of incompatible foreigners floods this nation every year," and goes on to warn "White Americans will be a minority in the nation they built," urging those with similar views "to take a stand." In their manifesto the group suggests America should be "a nation exclusively for the White American" as they are the ones who "forged" it.
Although the New York Daily News recognized the man who plowed a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters in a photograph they'd taken earlier in the day of men holding shields with Vanguard America insignia on them, the group has claimed he wasn't a member.
"The driver of the vehicle that hit counter protesters today was, in no way, a member of Vanguard America," the group wrote in a statement posted to its official Twitter account. "All our members had been safely evacuated by the time of the incident."
The group claimed shields with their insignia had been "freely handed out to anyone in attendance" for Saturday's "Unite The Right" rally. "The shields seen [in the photograph] do not denote membership, nor does the white shirt," the statement read. "All our members are safe and accounted for, with no arrests or charges."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes Vanguard America as "a racist right-wing organization," the group was formed following a conflict between members of American Vanguard. That group, which was previously known as Reaction America, was reportedly born from the Iron March forum community.
Vanguard America uses the tagline "Blood and Soil" and members (and supporters) of the group were reportedly chanting the line ahead of Saturday's "Unite The Right" rally. The phrase is the English translation of the Nazi philosophy "Blut und Boden," or the idea that one's ethnicity is determined by blood and the territory where they live.
The Anti-Defamation League reports that though the group operates mainly online, the leader of Vanguard America claimed to have "approximately 200 members in 20 different states" in 2016. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the group's activities largely center around distributing white supremacist or Semitic fliers at colleges and synagogues and holding small public events or protests similar to Saturday's the "Unite The Right" rally.