The demonstration had dissolved into chaos, with a breakdown in order and safety before the rally was even scheduled to begin. The almost non-existent presence and action by police had helped create a situation where mass political violence was inevitable.
Bodies collided as if in medieval combat – wooden clubs, shields and bottles inflicted brutal blows on each side, mace and tear gas choked up every breath. Many of the White Nationalists were armed, supported by militias in combat armor and holding assault rifles. A few demonstrators on the left had their own firearms, but the advantage was clearly in favor of the White Nationalists, even outgunning the police until officers in riot gear began their crackdown.
The clashes subsided, and the violence and outpouring of demonstrators appeared to be over, but the now infamous vehicle attack by a White Nationalist on a group of peaceful self-described anti-hate marchers changed the face of the Charlottesville demonstrations. The attack left one woman dead and 19 others injured, and that’s what Charlottesville was suddenly known for – hate, pain, death.
This was a shame, according to my Uber driver, a white baby-boomer with thinning gray hair, who said that he and most of his neighbors weren’t happy to have the masses of White Nationalists, American Nazis and KKK members in their town.
“We’ve got real problems,” he declared as he described the challenges of homelessness, poverty and rising medical bills for the aging generations – things with which nearly every American town can identify.
To this resident, and many like him, this is all a distraction from the issues that matter most – identity politics and statues replacing the sting of reality when bills are piling up and medication might be skipped in order to eat.
While there is no doubt some residents of Charlottesville support the efforts of the White Nationalist demonstrators, it must be pointed out this was a majority invading political force, with attendees coming from all over the country, bringing with them unmatched violence. And just as quickly as they appeared, they will be gone, leaving Charlottesville to cope with the pain of Aug. 12, while still facing their daily communal struggles.
The truth is this could be any town in America, especially any town in the South – it could be Lebanon. The rise of political intimidation and violence can sweep in quickly, but leave lasting effects, and with or without flags of white supremacy waving in the streets, everyday problems will still be knocking at the door.
Matt Masters is a correspondent for The Lebanon Democrat. He lives in Murfreesboro.