Interview: How Corey Long Fought White Supremacy With Fire

Steve Helber/AP Images

The images that flashed before our eyes on television and social media from this weekend’s racist rallies and counterprotests were ones filled with rage, hatred and sadness. The world bore witness to the results of an election filled with hostility and fearmongering, which gave the people who elected a racist demagogue into office the balls to remove their robes and masks.

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And unfortunately, all hell broke loose in Charlottesville, Va.

From the death of Heather Heyer to the brutal beating of Deandre Harris and the numerous others injured, it’ll be a long time before the residents of Charlottesville are able to make any sense of what happened. But Corey Long, a lifelong resident, not only witnessed the town going from peaceful to chaotic but was also captured in one of the most iconic photos taken over the three-day period.


The 23-year-old elder care worker says he went to the counterprotests to have his voice heard. He didn’t want to see racism win and destroy the city he was raised in.

“I went out to voice my opinion. To have my freedom of speech. Just like the racist Nazis who took over my town,” Long said in an interview with The Root.


But what started out as a peaceful protest eventually turned violent. And Long says the cops stood around and did nothing.

“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long said softly as he spoke. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”


Long said the only weapon he had was a can of spray paint that a white supremacist threw at him earlier, so he took a lighter to the spray paint and turned it into a flame thrower. And a photographer snapped the photo.

But inside every photograph is an untold story. If you look closely at Long’s picture, there’s an elderly white man standing in between Long and his friend. The unknown man was part of the counterprotests, too, but was afraid, and Long and his friends were trying to protect him. Even though, Long says, those who were paid to protect the residents of Charlottesville were doing just the opposite.


“The cops were protecting the Nazis, instead of the people who live in the city,” Long said. “The cops basically just stood in their line and looked at the chaos. The cops were not protecting the people of Charlottesville. They were protecting the outsiders.”

Some may wonder why the cops didn’t do more to protect the normally quiet town, but Long wants to know why the Ku Klux Klan were allowed to march, when the same city wouldn’t let rapper Waka Flocka hold a concert.


“They shouldn’t have allowed it. They wouldn’t even allow Waka Flocka to come down. You wouldn’t let a rap artist come down, but you allow the Nazis? There’s something wrong with this picture,” Long said.

Long didn’t want to paint Charlottesville as a picturesque town where everyone walks around town in rose-colored glasses, and racism never existed before this weekend, but he did say the Unite the Right event definitely put a blemish on the city. And after seeing the life of his friend Deandre Harris, who’s only been in Charlottesville for two years, flash before his eyes, while people stood around and just took photo ops, he’s left even more confused than before.


Long was in the parking deck with Harris as he was getting assaulted by white supremacists. But Long wasn’t the only one there. There were other people standing around with their cameras, not helping. They seemed to be just worried about capturing that perfect shot.

“The white supremacists told us to ‘die, nigger’ in the garage,” Long said. And when one had the chance, he picked up a stick and tried to use it to his advantage.


Even when Long was finally able to help Harris and get him to safety, the white supremacists were unrelenting. Harris and Long ran into a stairway, and they were chased there by the racists as well.

“The Nazis tried to force their way into the stairway that we were hiding in. The fact was that they [photographers] just stood around recording everything. The fact that they didn’t help us. ... It was outrageous,” Long stated.


Long still doesn’t understand how people can be so hateful in this day and age, and he says he’ll never understand why his city gave hate an outlet. But then again, we are in a Trump presidency, so this is the world we live in.

“Pure hatred is what happened in Charlottesville. The fact that anyone can hate someone because of their skin color is ridiculous, but the fact that the president doesn’t speak on it is outrageous.”


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