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Four Years After Charlottesville: Warnings of Violence

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

Four years ago, racists, anti-Semites, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups gathered in Charlottesville, VA to “Unite the Right.” The rally organizer, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of a Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue from a public park.

It didn’t take long for protestors to begin spewing racist changes used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us.” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia. Many carried battle gear and went looking for fights.

Confrontation in the streets led to bloody clashes between civil rights groups and white supremacists, ultimately ending when a car plowed into the crowd leaving counter-protester Heather Heyer dead and nineteen others injured.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, saying they were “very fine people, on both sides.”

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to rife a wave of violent populism. We witnessed mass deportations, thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents and locked in cages, several mass shootings, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, and many senseless killings of African Americans by law enforcement officers.

He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during the coronavirus, telling supporters to “liberate Michigan” (and other states), and “save your great 2nd Amendment.”

Then, he repeatedly told his supporters that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, and on January 6th, suggested that they march to Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.

Trump never took ownership of any of these events; there was never a call for unity or healing. All “we the people” got was a further divided country. And, while mainstream Republican leaders initially condemned the violence at the Capitol, most decided in subsequent months that it either wasn’t that bad after all or that the country simply needed to move on. The congressional GOP was relatively united in trying to block any serious investigation.

Despite Trump’s loss, many of his political conspiracies continue to find a receptive audience. In fact, the January 2021 American Perspectives Survey revealed that 39 percent of Republicans believe that if political leaders won’t protect America, ordinary people should employ political violence. In another survey, 47 percent said that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” These numbers are unprecedented and alarming.

In more disturbing news, the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a warning stating: “Some conspiracy theories associated with reinstating former President Trump have included calls for violence if desired outcomes are not realized.” Additionally, the U.S. Capitol Police said they were aware of a #JusticeForJ6 rally planned at the Capitol for September 18, in support of people who were arrested in connection with the January 6th insurrection.

As the coronavirus rages again, these same Trump supports are threatening local officials who are following CDC guidelines to require everyone to “mask up.” One example is in Franklin, TN where anti-mask mobs threatened doctors and nurses, asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Make no mistake, these events were not the beginning of a vast political divide in this country. Political polarization has wreaked havoc on the U.S. since before the 2016 election. However, I think we can all agree that they are series issues requiring serious solutions from Democrats and Republicans.

While I am unsure about the future of our nation, history teaches us that even in our darkest moments, we have demonstrated the ability to change, call a halt to our offensive behavior, rise to a higher standard, and build a better tomorrow. My faith inspires me to hope and pray for a return to civility.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves and the next generation to do everything possible to create a better tomorrow?

Mark M. Bello, a trial lawyer, is the author of "Supreme Betrayal" and other ‘ripped from the headlines’ Zachary Blake Social Justice Legal Thrillers available on and other online booksellers. For more information, please visit Mark also is co-host of the new podcast, Justice Counts, which beginning Aug. 16 will feature an interview with attorney Michael Bryant who represents numerous victims of abuse by Catholic priests.

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