Democracy Dies in Darkness

Global Opinions

What if Western media covered Charlottesville the same way it covers other nations

August 16, 2017 at 12:45 PM

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White nationalists staged a torchlit march on the campus of the University of Virginia on Aug.11, ahead of a planned far-right rally.

If we talked about what happened in Charlottesville the same way we talk about events in a foreign country, here’s how Western media would cover it. Those quoted in the “story” below are fictional.

The international community is yet again sounding the alarm on ethnic violence in the United States under the new regime of President Trump. The latest flash point occurred this past weekend when the former Confederate stronghold of Charlottesville descended into chaos following rallies of white supremacist groups protesting the removal of statues celebrating leaders of the defeated Confederate states. The chaos turned deadly when Heather Heyer, a member of the white ethnic majority who attended the rally as a counterprotester, was killed when a man with neo-Nazi sympathies allegedly drove his car into a crowd.

Trump, a former reality television host, beauty pageant organizer and businessman, rose to political prominence by publicly questioning the citizenship of the United States’ first black president, Barack Obama. Since his election, Trump has targeted Muslims, refugees, Mexicans and the media. He has also advocated for police brutality. These tactics have appealed to and emboldened white ethno-nationalist groups and domestic terrorist organizations.

After Charlottesville, Trump has largely refused to unequivocally condemn the actions of the white supremacist groups. In a shocking news conference Tuesday, Trump, fuming after consuming hours of cable television, doubled down on blaming “both sides” for the weekend’s violence. His remarks garnered praise from a former leader of a white terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville,” Duke said on Twitter.

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President Trump on Aug. 15 said that “there’s blame on both sides” for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Beyond Trump’s coddling of white extremist groups, the emboldening of white supremacists and neo-Nazis raises questions about the state of the United States’ democracy 152 years after its brutal civil war over the rights of the white ethnic majority in its southern region to enslave members of the black ethnic minority. After the Charlottesville turmoil, more protests are expected around the country against the removal of Confederate monuments.

“Culturally, Americans are a curious lot,” said Andrew Darcy Morthington, an United Kingdom-based commentator who once embarked on a two-year mission trip to teach rural American children and therefore qualifies as an expert on U.S. affairs. “Donald Trump’s campaign message was that he would make America great again, and that there would be so much ‘winning.’ If America cares about being great, why has it fought so hard to keep monuments to the Confederate losers and enslavers?”

“The worst thing Britain ever did was letting go of our colony and thinking Americans were capable of governing themselves without eventually resorting back to tribal politics,” said Martin Rhodes, a shopkeeper in London. “I can’t believe a once-great empire would threaten everything it has built over generations just because a group of people give in to racism and xenoph…” Rhodes’s voice trailed off as he stared wistfully at a silent Big Ben.

Experts are also linking the weekend violence to the scourge of domestic terrorism carried out by white males, who have carried out almost twice as many mass attacks on American soil than Muslims have in recent years.

“This is the time for moderates across the white male world to come out and denounce violent racial terrorism, white supremacy and regressive tribal politics,” said James Charlotin, a Canadian national security expert. “Why haven’t they spoken out?”

European leaders have offered to convene the first-ever Countering Violent White Male Extremism (CVWME) summit somewhere in Europe, but critics have pointed out that Europe was the original exporter of many of the same colonial and white supremacist ideologies that have fueled misery all over the globe.

The Trump regime, which has failed to deliver on much of its legislation promises, is governing in a country awash in guns, where the maternal mortality rate, alcoholism and opioid drug use are on the rise.

“This is just a recipe for entrenched disaffection from the state and further isolation and radicalization of American white males,” Charlotin said.

“The Americans on both sides of the political spectrum like to talk about identity politics, or white identity,” said Mustapha Okango, a Kenyan anthropologist based in Nairobi. “The Americans like to lecture us and other Africans about keeping tribalism out of our politics and putting country ahead of our ethnic groups. America’s institutions are strong. But when I saw the images of those white men in polos carrying Party City tiki torches and weapons, it’s pretty clear American white tribal politics are alive and well, explicitly fueled by President Trump’s regime. White supremacy doesn’t just hurt blacks or other minority groups, it hurts the whole country. Take it from us Kenyans, it’s a dangerous recipe. We had hoped better for America.”

A white nationalist and a counterprotester face off.
A member of “The Militia” tries to separate white nationalists and counterprotesters.
Counterprotesters shout during the Unite the Right rally.
A group calling itself “The Militia” arrives to “keep the peace” outside the rally.
White nationalists rally at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.
Ben, a 21-year-old Ku Klux Klan member from Harrison, Ark., attends the rally at Emancipation Park.
Counterprotesters from the Unitarian Universalists congregation link arms during the Unite the Right rally.
White nationalist groups rally at Emancipation Park.
White nationalists gather at Emancipation Park for the Unite the Right rally.
Cornel West hugs a counterprotesters outside Emancipation Park during the rally.
A rally participant blares a horn at counterprotesters.
Black Lives Matter counterprotestors shout during the rally.
Clashes begin at the Unite the Right rally.
White nationalists stand behind shields during the rally.
Counterprotesters and White nationalists clash.
Counterprotesters and white nationalists clash at the Unite the Right rally.
White nationalists clash with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park.
A counterprotester uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist at the entrance to Emancipation Park.
Protesters are forced out of Emancipation Park by riot police.
A woman is injured during the clashes.
White nationalist groups and counterprotesters during the Unite the Right rally.
White nationalists and counterprotesters clash during the rally.
Demonstrators skirmish in Charlottesville.
A demonstrator throws a newspaper box.
Black Lives Matter protesters stand in a fog of tear gas during the clashes.
Demonstrators and counterprotesters clash.
A woman is sprayed with water to wash away pepper spray.
A man pleads with riot police to "stop defending the Nazis" during the rally.
A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
People are treated after the collision.
The scene after a car plowed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville.
Rescue workers tranport a victim on a stretcher.
Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into protesters.
Kessler looks at his watch while waiting for a crowd of protesters to quiet before beginning a news conference Sunday in front of City Hall.
Protesters use trombones in an attempt to drown out Kessler’s news conference.
Kessler holds a news conference outside City Hall.
Protesters shout anti-Nazi chants after chasing Kessler from the news conference. Kessler, who helped organize the Unite the Right rally one day earlier, blamed Charlottesville government officials and law enforcement for failing to protect the First Amendment rights of the rally's participants, a collection of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and alt-right supporters.
A police escort rushes away Kessler after the news conference was broken up.
Kessler is rushed away after his news conference.
Counterprotesters shout after Kessler fled.
Several hundred people on the campus of the University of Virgina chant “White lives matter!,” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
White nationalists march along the front of a campus building.
The torchlit march makes its way through the University of Virginia campus.
Beginning a little after 9:30 p.m., the march lasted 15 to 20 minutes before ending in skirmishing when the marchers were met by a small group of counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.
White nationalists carry torches while marching.
The march came on the eve of the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of groups from around the country whose members have said they are being persecuted for being white and that white history in America is being erased.
University of Virginia campus police keep watch.
The Saturday rally is being held at noon at Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, home to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville voted to remove earlier this year. The statue remains in the park pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.
Men in their 20s and 30s constituted the majority of the participants.
An officer helps a white nationalist after tear gas was deployed, apparently by a counterprotester.
A counterprotester reacts to tear gas.
Marchers gather around the Thomas Jefferson statue.
Photo Gallery: White nationalists, met by counterprotesters, held a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville after torch-bearing protesters marched through the University of Virginia campus the night before. During the rally, a vehicle plowed into a crowd marching peacefully through downtown Charlottesville.

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Karen Attiah is The Washington Post's Global Opinions editor. She writes on international affairs and social issues. Previously, she reported from Curacao, Ghana and Nigeria.

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