CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Residents of Charlottesville — reeling after a driver plowed his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters — turned their attention to the deep-seated divisions that may have attracted hate groups to the town in the first place.
“I think in a Southern city, Southern town, white supremacy is woven into the American DNA,” said Rev. Seth Wispelwey of the local Sojourners United Church of Christ. “There’s a lot of unreconciled history that has gone unchallenged.”
Saturday’s gathering marked the fourth time since May that white nationalists have gathered to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and to rename parks dedicated to Confederate leaders.
The statue’s location in what is now called Emancipation Park — formerly known as Lee Park — has become a meeting place for the members of the “alt-right,” a part of the conservative movement that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism. This right-wing activism comes amid a renewed push across the South to remove Confederate symbols and names from public places.
Wispelwey, who has lived in this city of 43,000 for most of his life, and other local residents said they were still processing the shock that washed over so many after white protesters and counter-protesters clashed in the heart of the city.
The violence reached a peak when a silver Dodge Challenger drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 people. Soon after, police arrested 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, and charged him with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of “hit and run attended failure to stop with injury.”
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