Hundreds of people marched through the University of Virginia on Aug. 11 carrying torches, shouting and fighting with counterprotesters at a statue of the school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson. The next day, the conflict turned deadly when a man drove into a crowd of people protesting a planned white-supremacist rally, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 19. Two police officers died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the day’s demonstrations.
A counterprotester recently wrote this letter to Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia. Spokesmen for the university did not respond to questions about whether Sullivan or U-Va. officials wished to respond to the letter. — Susan Svrluga
My name is Tyler Magill. I am an alum of the University, a DJ at the university’s radio station for more than 20 years, and an employee of our library system. It was in my capacity as a WTJU DJ that I suggested that the station broadcast from the Rotunda on that day when it seemed that the entire University came out to support you when two board members asked you to resign. That was a thrilling day, and I was proud to stand with you, and with the vast majority of students, faculty and staff who marched for openness and fairness.
Now I find myself in a different position, one that gives me no joy at all.
As you may know, I was rather more involved with the racist riot on August 11th than even I intended to be.
Just like you, I received notice of the illegal torchlight march on that day.
I decided that I would witness it myself.
I have 24-hour access to Alderman Library, and so I figured that I might be able to observe the goings-on at Nameless Field from a position of relative safety with clear access to a position of safety. I got there about 7:30 in the evening. Already, one car full of marchers was parked.
Soon thereafter, the first of the UVA Police motorcycle patrols passed by. From then until when the chanting mob left for the Lawn, assume that they passed by every five or ten minutes.
More and more fascists arrived. I noticed a library regular up at the bench overlooking Nameless Field. I ran up to tell him what was going on, and stayed at the bench. Eventually some more antifa people joined me.
I watched the marchers menace people who had been playing beach volleyball, who quickly left. Students pulled into the street behind Alderman, looking to park, thinking this was just another Friday night. I would tell them the situation and they would leave as fast as they could.
At one point, a young black man, visibly distressed, approached. “What’s happening?” he asked. I told him. His face was heartbreaking. “I’m a student here,” he said. “How am I supposed to feel safe here?”
All I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
Around 9:30 I called 911. I had seen torches brought out.
The Charlottesville Police Department dispatcher said that they were monitoring the situation.
By this time, there were hundreds of people in Nameless Field, and the people joining them made no show of hiding their intentions.
Nor could it be said that I or the people watching from the bench were. It was perfectly clear what was happening, so why hide anymore? We called out, “Welcome to Charlottesville!”
They responded with Nazi salutes, with sneers, with determined faces. And still the motorcycle patrols drove by. At one point, down at the bottom of the hill, I saw sirens flash and I sighed with relief, but it turned out to be a routine traffic stop. The policeman had pulled someone over in full view of the milling crowd of white racists.
One wonders what the crowd was thinking, and one wonders about the relief they must have felt when the police car drove on, the happiness they felt knowing that they could do whatever they wanted without fear of reprisal.
Soon thereafter the torches were lit. The line of fascists stretched all the way out to Emmett Street, torch lighting torch. It was like watching a slow fuse burn.
Then with a horrible shout that I will always remember, they started off on their way.
I imagine you’ve seen some of the videos. Many fascists posted YouTube videos and live streams. They were proud, and they were without fear of reprisal. This was their time, so why not celebrate? They filmed themselves joyfully threatening students and townspeople who were walking through UVA. You’ve seen the videos. Many, many people have. Many, many people watched the videos live and got excited for the rally the next day.
I hastened to the Rotunda. I have to admit that at this point I was dumbfounded, shellshocked. Why hadn’t this been stopped?
On the Lawn, I saw people sitting out in front of one of the rooms, another group of students enjoying another beautiful evening. I told them what was happening, the harsh chants growing louder. They ran inside. Two young men, one Asian, were on the steps of the Rotunda. As the torches came into sight, they asked me what that was. Both stood shocked for a second and then ran to the monument.
I, tired from running, not really in my right mind, sat down on the steps to the Rotunda and waited for the marchers. They would have to run me over or walk around me.
They did the latter. Their eyes were on bigger prizes. They streamed around me, chanting, “Blood and soil,” chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
I saw Jason Kessler and hailed him, sarcastically: “Hi Jake!” He looked enraptured. He wasn’t noticing the likes of me.
I walked around the Rotunda to see what they were doing and then I saw them surrounding a couple dozen kids, students, townspeople, and faculty, who had linked arms around the statue of Jefferson. And again, shellshocked, not thinking, I ran down to join them, only hoping to be a witness, and hoping that even if they were prepared to hurt, to kill 30 people, perhaps they wouldn’t kill 31.
I stood next to a young person in a wheelchair. And some point I looked down and saw liquid splashing on them, and then the fascists started throwing lit torches at us, in full view of the U-Va. police, and behind them, the Charlottesville police. No one stopped them. This was all done in full view of the police.
There is the now famous picture of Cantwell unloading a canister of mace into a kid. This too happened in full view of the U-Va. Police.
And then we heard, “TORCHES OUT!” And the fascists started to leave, high-fiving. They had done what they had come to do. They had won, for lack of a better word. They had claimed territory and not only that, they had claimed territory in full view of the police, who then started to rush in as they left, declaring this an illegal assembly to the couple dozen counterprotesters who now stood, unbroken, to the east of the statue.
At some point in there, I do not remember where, I was hit in the neck with such force that it dissected a carotid artery. I do not remember the blow, even. All I can remember is the image, flashing in front of my closed eyes, of the artery projected in negative on my eyelids.
So I walked home. I passed two Charlottesville police officers. I sat down on the wall beside them. “They tried to kill us,” I blurted. I wanted someone to know. “They threw fuel on us and then they threw torches.”
They wouldn’t look at me. They told me to bring it up with their superior.
In a sense, that is what I am doing now. Of course, as an employee of the University, you are my superior. And while you are not a superior for the city police, you are the superior for the university police.
What they were told to do and not do, who they were told to engage and not engage, was so off the mark that it would be laughable, if not downright negligent.
The white nationalists and their willing stooges were allowed to run rampant and unchecked through the University.
They were high-fiving and hooting and cheering afterward, and why not? Whose streets? Their streets. Whose Grounds? Their Grounds. It had been taken away from the young student who asked me, how am I supposed to feel safe here?
But maybe he never felt like they were his Grounds in the first place.
The white nationalists were allowed to take the university, and the confidence boost they received certainly had an effect on their confidence the next day.
Three people died.
I believe that if they had been stopped the night before, Heather Heyer would still be alive.
Your responses and the responses of the university have been tone deaf at the least and insulting at the very worst.
First of all, saying that you had no information on the event of the 11th is just wrong. You did have information. I am confused as to when or if you have admitted as such.
Secondly, you chose the way of fear on the night of the 11th. You feared the possible PR nightmare that would have resulted if you had stopped the fascists from marching. You weighed the possibilities, and you gambled that angering some scraggly antifa activists (how tiresome they are with their demands and their manifestos!) would turn out better than angering white men with delusions of relevance, some of whom might, you know, be donors.
This has not worked out, obviously. You have learned what anyone could have told you: that to trust fascists is to be betrayed, time and time again. In other words, they might clean up real nice, and have ties and tight haircuts, but by their actions we know them.
How frightened the fascists made you was proved when you blew up on that student, asking sarcastically why she didn’t share her knowledge. The fascists frighten us all, of course. That is how they do things, and the tools and methods they use make use of and appeal to fear. Indeed, they scare us into scaring others on their behalf. Stay home! Don’t engage! Far from being the way to deal with their sort of threat, that is exactly what they want.
Finally, the different letters, the one to the students and faculty and the one to the donors: you could not possibly have thought you could keep the latter from the former. You couldn’t possibly have thought that the wording of the latter wouldn’t be inflammatory. You couldn’t possibly have thought that that different wording wasn’t inflammatory. And yet, here we are.
There are ways you can at least make a gesture to the people who were terrorized and injured by the racists who showed themselves at U-Va. Surely you know that the $12,000 donation toward the medical costs of those injured at U-Va. doesn’t cover aspirin and clean bedsheets.
I haven’t seen my bill yet but I almost look forward, in a sick way, to counting the zeros as they march across the page.
I have insurance and I have friends and people who donated to a campaign to help defray my costs. There are many who were injured not only at U-Va. but the day afterward who have no insurance, who don’t have cushy university jobs.
These people’s lives are in shambles because the university failed to take action on Friday night.
The university should pay, in full, the bills of all those injured on the 11th and 12th. The university emboldened the fascists with their lack of action, and set the stage for the 12th. The university must acknowledge its complicity, and make amends.
You are moving on to a new university, I would imagine. You will be leaving and that is for the best. I would hope that you have learned some lessons from U-Va. I wish you well.
Thank you for your time.
D.R. Tyler Magill