Last weekend was the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist Unite the Right terrorist attacks on Charlottesville, Va., and to celebrate, white nationalist leader Jason Kessler decided to do a remix and hold Unite the Right 2, in Washington, D.C.
As a University of Virginia alumni and a resident of the vast suburban sprawl that is Washington, D.C., I decided to travel to both locations and report on what the Nazis were up to. Or at least that was my plan. Turns out, in 2018 it’s really hard to actually lay eyes on a real live Nazi, but what I actually saw in Washington, D.C. and Charlottesville was worse.
I got to Charlottesville late Friday night and attended most of the anniversary events on Saturday. I went to the “Hope that Summons Us” memorial at UVA’s Old Cabel Hall on Saturday morning. Not a Nazi in sight. I attended part of a community discussion afterward on UVA’s lawn. Still no Nazis there. Later that Saturday evening, I attended a student rally at the very spot where the alt-right marched last year and there were about 40 actual peace marchers, a few dozen antifa members for protection and a whole throng of news reporters. You know what I didn’t see? Any Nazis. Not one swastika, not one “88” symbol not one MAGA hat. You known what I did see?
I saw a city that has definitely made improvements since last year but is still deploying a police force who seemed more hostile to peaceful protesters than they ever were to actual terrorists last year.
I saw a University of Virginia memorial, that while nice, required tickets to get into, and was filled more with community elites and influencers than the black and brown people who live in day to day fear of white nationalists and police. I experienced an old white man walk up to me asking if I worked at the school, and when I told him I didn’t, became agitated and kept demanding I answer his questions because that’s what old white men in the South have a tendency to do sometimes.
I talked to Brennan Gould, president and CEO of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, who said Charlottesville has made progress in the last year but still isn’t addressing the long-term effects of structural racism. For example, over 139 black-owned homes, 30 black-owned businesses and a church in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood were bulldozed by Charlottesville’s all-white city council in a racist land grab in 1965. To this day, none of those black families, many of whom were forced into public housing by the city, have been made whole.
I know that two of the founders of the march last year, Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, are University of Virginia graduates. In a city that is supposedly looking inward, me and a group of black diners initially were denied dinner in a restaurant where the kitchen was clearly still open. I saw all of that. Experienced all of that. Heard about all of that. But didn’t see any Nazis.
The next morning, I woke up early, hopped into my car and made the two-hour drive from Charlottesville back to Washington, D.C. I met up with a colleague and we went around the city that morning looking for the Unite the Right 2 march. The Nazi’s were really sneaky about when they would actually start the march. First, it was supposed to start at 10 a.m., then 11:00 a.m. then we heard 5:30 p.m.; eventually, it started around 3 p.m.
When that pathetic group of malcontents actually showed up (along with their lone black friend), you could barely see them. My selfie-stick was way past Elasti-Girl length and I still couldn’t get any pictures of the Nazis. Why? Because there were hundreds and hundreds of more anti-racism marchers than pro-white nationalism protesters. So, I did Na-Zi anybody. (See what I did there?)
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see anything.
I did see police officers going out of their way to protect Jason Kessler, a man responsible for last year’s terrorist attack in Charlottesville. I did see a city Metro System give white nationalists a PRIVATE metro car just so they could get to the city safely. I did see cops donning “Blue Lives matter” patches, which is not only a racist taunt at Black Lives Matter but the very SAME patches worn by Unite the Right marchers last year in Charlottesville. I did see a city bend over backwards and spend thousands dollars and city resources for less than 30 racists while thousands of black men and women in the city have to fight tooth and nail to get access to basic necessities like trash pickup and decent schools. However, try as I might, I didn’t see any actual Nazis. Of course, at this point, it didn’t matter.
In 2017, those Unite the Right guys thought they had it all figured out. They were going to march into Charlottesville like Lavar Ball, do a little Tikki dance, dunk all over America, then leave high-fiving like a white suburban YMCA team that managed to score one basket against the black kids from across town. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way. Antifa shut them down, Unite the Right was out-numbered by anti-racism marchers, and America turned against them in the wake of Heather Heyer’s death. More importantly, online activists hunted down the men who attacked DeAndre Harris and many of them have been jailed. Dozens of other Unite the Right marchers from last year have lost jobs, been kicked out of their apartments and been shunned by family. These guys went from stunting on Vice News to crying on YouTube.
All of this explains why I didn’t see any full-blown Nazis last weekend. They’re in hiding and they aren’t trying to lose that 401K, so they’ve retreated to gaming chat-rooms and calling the cops on black people for no reason. Besides, they don’t have to go out anymore—every other weekend some “liberal newspaper” is reaching out to them giving them soft-touch, empathetic write-ups.
Nevertheless, just because I didn’t see a ton of Nazis marching in the street doesn’t mean their ideology wasn’t everywhere. I experienced white supremacy. From the behavior of cops, store owners and random white men I met on the street, down to the historic legacies of white supremacy manifesting in where black people get to live, move or even be heard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad 5,000 Nazis weren’t marching to the White House in MAGA hats. But just because the outward manifestation of white violence, terrorism and hatred aren’t present doesn’t mean that the ideology behind it—which is just as dangerous to black lives—isn’t ever present.
In the end, I was probably wasting my time trying to spot Nazis in public, because their work was always right in front of me.