A 32-year-old woman was killed on August 12. Her name was Heather Heyer. She was struck by a vehicle in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nineteen other people were injured in the incident.
The reason Heyer was in Charlottesville was to counter-protest a rally known as the Unite the Right. Unite the Right protestors had gathered to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, an American general best known for leading the Confederate Army of North Virginia during the American Civil War. The Confederate Army fought in support of slavery.
Protestors opposing the removal of the statue shared a white nationalist point of view. Generally speaking, white nationalists want countries like Canada and America to maintain a white majority, which means they aren’t particularly keen on immigrants, refugees, and multiculturalism. As is the case in any group, some are extremists (neo-nazis, KKK members) and some are more moderate. But generally speaking, all of them feel threatened that their national identity is under assault.
While that might be a provocative position, it is at least a position that can start a discussion. It’s possible to discuss matters of race with people who think differently than you do. In fact, such discussions should be encouraged. Maybe a little more talking would lead to a lot less violence.
A position that’s more difficult to deal with is the astonishing hate-mongering that sprang up at the Unite the Right rally.
Not only was Heyer murdered at the rally when, on the second and final day of the event, a man with ties to white hate groups plowed a car into a crowd of counter-protestors. Two state troopers died when policing the rally, and a total of 38 people reported injuries.
Chants of “Blood and Soil” were offered by attendees, which was a veiled way of shadowing the Nazi rallying cry “Blut und Boden.” In Nazi-speak, that term suggests ethnic identity is based on your descendants and the place where you live. Also chanted was the mantra “Jews will not replace us.”
Interestingly, Nova Scotia recently witnessed an incident that draws to mind the Charlottesville event.
On July 1, at the site of the Edward Cornwallis statue, Chief Grizzly Mamma cut off her braids and lay them at the foot of Cornwallis’ image. The act was symbolic of Cornwallis’ legacy, which included offering a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in hopes of squashing natives’ resistance to colonization.
Chief Mamma was joined by a crowd of protestors gathered to honour the memory of missing and murdered indigenous women. They were met by counter-protestors in the form of five Proud Boys.
In a New Yorker article, Proud Boys’ founder Gavin McInnes defined his group as a “Pro-Western fraternal organization that refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Unlike Charlottesville, interaction between the two groups remained largely verbal. Media reports from CTV maintain that one of the Proud Boys told the First Nations’ protestors that, “This was Mi’Kmaq territory. This is now Canada. This is a British colony.”
Another interesting connection is that McInnes formed The Proud Boys while working at Rebel Media, Canada’s far-right media website. One of McInnes’ Rebel colleagues was Faith Goldy, a journalist who visited Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally.
During her visit to Charlottesville, Goldy was not officially reporting for The Rebel but rather offering on-the-spot reports via Periscope. MacLean’s Magazine reports that she several times regarded the white nationalists as patriots, and on Stefan Molyneux’s podcast she said the protestors had well-thought-out ideas.
She also appeared on a podcast affiliated with The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.
She was fired a short time later.
She’s not the only one in hot water.
Goldy’s fate was similar to that of the five Proud Boys who harassed First Nations’ women in Halifax. The five men were Canadian Armed Forces members, and they have since been removed from duty and training.
Rebel Media is itself in something of a tough situation, as 300 advertisers have jumped ship in the last three months, Goldy made her exit, as has McInnes (who was tempted away by what’s reported to be a better offer elsewhere), and co-founder Brian Lilley has also said goodbye.
James Alex Fields, the alleged driver of the car in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer and injured 19 others, faces a charge of second degree murder, and nine other felony charges.
One thing that becomes clear in the fallout of both the Charlottesville matter and the Cornwallis situation is that, without question, you have a right to protest, to speak as you like, and to express any view you choose.
However, no one lives in a bubble, and if you express feelings that are hateful, you will have to suffer the consequences.