By Joshua Orsi
It came as no little surprise when neo-Nazi James Fields, Jr. ran over 32-year-old Heather Heyer on August 12th. While the specifics of the murder were not anticipated, even the hermits in their caves had to realize that something was going to give, and soon. After months of nearly ceaseless protests against President Trump and years of acidic vitriol between left and right, the new “reaction culture” of the United States claimed its first victim.
The proverbial dust had not yet settled when the media turned to their talking heads to analyze the mayhem into oblivion. The left savagely criticized the right for promoting “fascism,” the right responded rather defensively by condemning “hate” in all its forms. And yet in all this analysis, the truth was lost: a protest by white supremacists was instigated by talk of removing a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate war hero. The event began the evening of the eleventh and was scheduled to continue on the twelfth. The protesters had received legal permission from the city of Charlottesville to demonstrate; the counter-protesters who mobbed the event did not. Both sides screamed epithets at the other; both sides hurled rocks; a white supremacist rammed a car into people.
While it is tempting to follow the crowd and chalk this up as a classic case of racial warfare, that is not good journalism. History is complicated. The Civil War was not just about slavery; the tariff and economic issues played crucial roles. Segregation was government-mandated – numerous white business owners, in fact, protested the laws. Even the vaunted Abraham Lincoln was both a white supremacist and a white separatist.
The fact is, Trump was right. The tragedy of Charlottesville was indeed the fault of “many sides.” The protesters knew they would be vigorously, if not violently, opposed. The counter-protesters had no permit for their demonstration and were arguably in violation of the law. These weren’t saints protesting sinners. Both crowds were teeming with violent, foul-mouthed, quick-tempered rabble-rousers, rabble-rousers the town failed to restrain – in perhaps the most infuriating failure of all, the Charlottesville police did not intervene until after the rioting had broken out. So here we are picking up the pieces and hunkering down for the next blow.
It’s impossible to trace all the causes and ideas that gave birth to the neo-Nazi movement, and it’s impossible to fully understand how Antifa came to be, but it is possible to stop the fighting and end the culture war, or at the very least, tone it down a bit. It’s not as hard as one might think.
The neo-Nazis who marched in the Charlottesville riots were nominally protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Elsewhere, progressives attack the Trump administration with a fanaticism bordering on insurgency. And the reason is clear: indeed, it is a basic aspect of human nature – both sides want to remake America in their image. They want us to be more like them, whether it’s in terms of paying women more or serving minorities first or not using marijuana or invading Venezuela for some odd reason – it’s a battle for the heart and soul of the American people, and it’s a battle that shouldn’t be fought.
America is an anomaly. It’s a place where we can be free — man or woman, child or adult — free from an agenda and free to live our lives as God intended us to do. It’s not in the business of government to tell us to do anything – what substances to put in our body, what vaccines to give to our children, even what statues we should look at – not so we can go off and be drunken libertines, but so we can live and “serve one another humbly in love.” And yet we have ceded to our overlords that one thing that makes us great – our liberty – and given them the power to tell us whom we must admire and how we must be educated and the precise number of handwashing stations to have in our delicatessens. And now we’re surprised people are angry?
The Charlottesville riots will likely not be remembered for very long, but they mark a watershed in the increasingly violent culture wars that plague our union. All the sides are guilty, but that’s just the surface. We’ve lost our freedom, and with it we’ve lost our responsibility, and without that – well, who knows?