From Charlottesville to Mar-a-Lago
Following the leader, wherever you may go
Edited by Tommy Craggs
Five years ago today, white nationalists — sensing their time had arrived with the ascent of a president sympathetic to their cause — rampaged through what has since become my adoptive hometown of Charlottesville.
The aftermath of those two days of fascist rage set the tone for much that has come since. At first, most of the nation reacted to the riot with shock and horror, particularly to the neo-Nazi car attack that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Then Trump changed the tone. He equivocated, then lied, then praised the white supremacists who supported him. MAGA Nation rushed to Trump’s side — given crucial cover by much of the mainstream press, led by Liberal America’s most prestigious newspaper.
The organizers of the Unite the Right rally itself were disposable to the man in charge. They were left isolated, discredited, and penniless, especially once they were sued in a collective action on behalf of the victims of James Alex Fields’ car attack. (Fields himself is serving multiple life sentences in prison, under both state and federal convictions.)
But by the time they were held liable by a federal jury, the nation and the movement had more than moved on. Trump, soundly defeated by a candidate who launched his campaign with the words “Charlottesville, Virginia,” had staged a failed coup to remain in power — including a Capitol assault in which alumni of the 2017 Nazi rampage took part. Trump further echoed Charlottesville in praising the putschists (“These are great people”), then refused to acknowledge his successor, all the while plotting his comeback from his Palm Beach villa. It now appears he also made off with reams of classified material, including documents related to nuclear weapons — a choice that the Justice Department apparently believes could make him prosecutable under the Espionage Act and (yet again) for obstruction of justice.
In the wake of the FBI raid to recover those documents (a raid that could end with the subject facing serious prison time) the ex-president is again following his post-Charlottesville playbook: lie, deflect, equivocate, project — throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. He knows he can do so because he can count on getting the benefit of the doubt in supposedly oppositional circles, as well as the guaranteed support of a fanatical fanbase — trained to see any setback to him as an existential threat to their ideal nation and themselves.
Far-right influencers and Trump’s inner circle spent the day after the execution of the search warrant ginning up that base for war against the “radical left” and the FBI, on the grounds that the search must have been illegitimate political retribution. It was an easy sell because, as the historian Kathleen Belew has extensively chronicled, for decades federal agents have been