As well-coordinated and meticulously organized white nationalists converged to rally in Charlottesville, they brought with them chants, banners, slurs, shields and flags. Counterprotesters, including anti-fascist groups and local residents, church groups and civil rights leaders, had their own symbols and slogans. Each of the icons spotted carried its own political context and history.
Symbols on display ranged from exact replicas of the Confederate flag to altered versions of a National Hockey League team logo. Some date from the Crusades, while others were designed in the wake of President Trump’s election. Those marching with far-right groups were generally well organized, with many wearing group uniforms and carrying shields. Those protesting in opposition were less consistent in their branding. Here’s what was seen on the streets of Charlottesville.
Far-right white nationalists
National Socialist Movement
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement traces its roots to the American Nazi Party, which was founded in 1959. The National Socialist Movement is the largest active neo-Nazi organization in America, openly reveres Adolf Hitler, and its members often protest in Nazi uniforms complete with swastika armbands. Read more
Detroit Red Wings logo
According to the hockey site Russian Machine Never Breaks, the logo of the Detroit Red Wings was altered and reused by a group of white nationalists called the Detroit Right Wings. The wheel from the traditional logo was altered to include a Nazi SS symbol and was then printed on shields carried by protesters. The hockey team has publicly denounced the reuse of its logo. Read more
This “knot of slain” is “an Old Norse symbol that often represented the afterlife in carvings and designs,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. White supremacists who use the symbol for racist purposes also use it to demonstrate they are willing to give their lives to the Norse god Odin, typically in battle. In other contexts, the symbol is also used by nonracist pagans. Read more
The design of the fictional national flag perfectly mimics a German Nazi war flag. The Kekistan logo replaces a swastika and the green background replaces the red. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, members of the alt-right “are particularly fond of the way the banner trolls liberals who recognize its origins.” Read more
Vanguard America logo
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Vanguard America uses the right-wing nationalist slogan, “blood and soil,” which promotes the idea that people with “white blood” are uniquely connected to “American soil.” The phrase originated in Germany — as blut und boden — and was used by Hitler’s Nazis. Originally, Vanguard America had a strictly alt-right philosophy, though the group has strengthened its ties with neo-Nazis. Read more
A variety of flags were used by the South and its forces during the Civil War, but the one most associated with the Confederacy was the battle flag, according to the ADL. The flag was adopted as a symbol of Southern heritage, slavery and white supremacy. It endures as a symbol common to white supremacists around the world. Read more
“Deus vult” is Latin for “God wills it,” a phrase once used among Crusaders.The phrase was supposedly used in a speech made by Pope Urban II in 1095, in which he implored the First Crusade to take the “Holy Land” back from Muslim rule. As Ishaan Tharoor has written in The Washington Post, the alt-right has taken on iconography of the Crusades in their messaging campaigns. Tharoor writes that the phrase “has become a kind of far-right code word” and is used as a hashtag throughout social media and racist graffiti. In October 2016, two Arkansas mosques were spray-painted with Islamophobic messages and swastikas, as well as “deus vult.” Read more
Southern nationalist flag
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the flag was designed by a former member of the neo-Confederate League of the South. In some instances it is combined with the Confederate battle flag. Read more
Identity Evropa flag
Identity Evropa is also modeled after European Identitarian groups and focuses on recruiting white, college-aged students to debate “race realism” and issues specific to white interests, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group also brands itself as a fraternity and social club as part of its recruitment practices. Read more
The Iron Cross is a famous German military medal that first appeared in the 19th century, according to the ADL. The Nazi regime in Germany superimposed a swastika on the metal in the 1930s, turning it into a Nazi symbol. Use of the medal was largely discontinued after World War II, but it remains popular with neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. Read more
The sonnenrad — or sunwheel — was popular in the traditional symbology of Old Norse and Celtic cultures, according to the ADL. One of ancient European symbols that Nazis adopted, the sonnenrad represents Nazis’ attempt to invent an idealized “Aryan/Norse” heritage, according to the ADL. Read more
Traditionalist Worker Party
The Traditionalist Worker Party was founded in 2015 in Cincinnati. The group maintains that the melding together of nationals and their economies is destructive to racially homogenous nations, as professed through the slogan “local solutions to the globalist problem.” The group also subscribes to “identitarianism,” which advocates for “culturally and ethnically homogenous communities,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group is also openly anti-Semitic. Read more
Bonnie Blue flag
The Bonnie Blue flag was first raised in Baton Rouge in 1810 in rebellion against Spanish rule and was never officially adopted by the Confederate government, according to the Republic of West Florida Historical Museum. But it became associated with the Confederacy because of the popular Confederate song, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” which an Irish-born actor wrote when he saw the flag raised about Mississippi’s capitol when it declared its secession in 1861. Read more
Researchers at the ADL could not say for sure what this skull icon represents, but it may be a variation on this Marvel Comics character’s logo. The Punisher logo is frequently used by the military, police and anti-government militia groups such as the Three Percenters.
Refuse Fascism banded together after Trump’s election and adopted the slogan “No! In the name of humanity we refuse to accept a fascist America!” The “No!” displayed on posters -- originally in black and white -- is a condensed version of that phrase. According to the organization, over 140,000 posters have been printed. Read more
The Pan-African flag was first adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association at a conference in New York City in 1920. Marcus Garvey, UNIA leader, had long talked about the need for a black liberation flag, which he thought of as a symbol of political maturity, according to NPR. The red in the flag stands for blood shed by Africans who died for their liberation, the black represents the color of skin and green was a symbol for the growth and natural fertility of Africa. Read more
NO H8 sign
A group of religious leaders organized a call for 1,000 clergy to march in opposition to the rally. They led prayers and lined up around Emancipation Park on Saturday morning. Some carried signs affiliated with the NO H8 Campaign, a group who says its mission is to promote equality. Read more
The far-right groups marching Friday and Saturday chanted slogans with a long history. Here’s more about what they said:
Far-right white nationalists
“Blood and soil”
The phrase “blood and soil” has a long history, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. It originated in Germany and is the English translation of “blut und boden.”
“The idea of promoting German nationalism, simply by conservatives and people on the right, was a really big deal in Germany in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Pitcavage said. “And they started coming up with slogans to sort of help create this nationality. And ‘blut und boden’ was one of those. It’s the combination of race and place, right? Those are the things that are holding the German people together.”
The phrase was re-popularized in the Nazi era by Richard Walther Darré, a high-level Nazi who was minister of food and agriculture, Pitcavage said.
“You can see how someone like him, a Nazi and involved in agriculture, really liked the phrase ‘blood and soil,’” he said.
Because members of the Nazi party used “blood and soil,” neo-Nazi groups and other white supremacists have also deployed the phrase.
“If you’re a quote-unquote white nationalist, if you want to create a white homeland, you can see how the same aspects of race and place can be very convenient for you,” Pitcavage said.
Far-right white nationalists
“You will not replace us/Jews will not replace us”
Pitcavage wasn’t sure when “you will not replace us” began to emerge as a chant, though he said it is an expression that stems from a common white supremacist concept.
“Modern white supremacist ideology, whether you’re talking about the alt-right, or neo-Nazis, or racist skinheads, or the Ku Klux Klan, is centered around the concept that the white race is threatened with imminent extinction,” Pitcavage said. “That the survival of the white race itself is in doubt because it is being doomed by a rising tide of color, controlled and manipulated by the Jews. And so modern white supremacist ideology has become a very desperate, cornered-rat sort of ideology, where they basically rationalize that virtually anything is justified if it will somehow quote-unquote save the white race.”
Most commonly, this is exemplified in a slogan known as the “14 words,” Pitcavage said.
“The 14 words stand for ‘we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,’” Pitcavage said. “It’s not very catchy but this is probably the single most popular white supremacist slogan in the world.”
The idea is that “us” is the white race, and “you” is basically those who are not white, or Jewish people, he said.
“So it’s the notion that we are fighting against our racial genocide, we are fighting to save the future of the white race,” Pitcavage said.
He called “Jews Will Not Replace Us” a “minor variation” on “You will not replace us.”
Far-right white nationalists
“White lives matter”
Keegan Hankes, an analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, called “white lives matter” a “complete reaction” to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s kind of a casual style, rhetorical style they use to try to make the point, we don’t hate other people, we just love our own people,” he said. “It’s like an age-old white nationalist trick, right? Trying to say, well we’re just standing up for our people.”
It’s something that was heard around the same time that Black Lives Matter protests were cropping up, Hankes said.
“And a lot of it was to get attention,” he said. “They knew it would be headline-grabbing and it would give them some optics or a hook to get people to pay attention to their rallies. And they also know that given how tense it was around those rallies, that it would be controversial, which is kind of also at the heart of everything these movements do, which is try to cause a stir so that they can have an outsized presence in the media.”
There is also a “White Lives Matter” group, Hankes said. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s website calls White Lives Matter a “racist response” to the Black Lives Matter movement, and “neo-Nazi group that is growing into a movement.” It was founded in 2015, according to the website.
Black Lives Matter movement
“Black lives matter”
The phrase “black lives matter” was coined by activists in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. It gained national prominence once it was adopted by residents of Ferguson, Mo., who were protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.
About this story
This story is based on social video, photos and other footage from Charlottesville. Video was shot by Zoeann Murphy, ACLUVA, Reuters, @annahigginsuva, @NBC29, and @craftypanda/Twitter, and Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post. Video editor: Victoria M. Walker. Video reporter: Zoeann Murphy. Video graphics editor: Danielle Kunitz. Design and graphics: Darla Cameron and Shelly Tan. Reporting: Sarah Larimer, Rachel Siegel and Rachel Chason. Photographer: Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post.