WASHINGTON — On Sunday, Aug. 12, Unite the Right, the agglomeration of far-right groups that organized the deadly Charlottesville, Va. rally last year, hopes to meet there again on its anniversary.
Likely missing from the 2018 rally, if courts allow it to take place: armed individuals and groups, by court order, and, because of infighting and attrition, a good chunk of the 500 or so extremists who turned up last year.
Unite What’s Left of the Right might be a more accurate moniker.
Last year’s rally seemed to climax a year in which the white supremacist wing of the “alt-right” appeared to be ascendant. Chanting “The Jews will not replace us” and other incendiary slogans, the Charlottesville marchers dropped any pretense that they were merely economic nationalists looking to preserve the country’s borders, or heirs of the Confederacy hoping to preserve their heritage.
But some of the “alt-right” leadership is in disarray, and the media have largely moved on.
Here are some snapshots of where the “alt-right” is as we head into the Charlottesville anniversary.
The lawsuits: No arms and less organization
Charlottesville, the municipality, joined several other plaintiffs in a bid to mitigate violence in the face of a second rally. They have sued to keep 25 defendants, individuals and groups among them, from returning for any protests bearing arms.
The lawsuit has yet to be fully resolved, but so far, at least 11 of the defendants have settled by agreeing not to return to Charlottesville with arms.
Jason Kessler, a key organizer of last year’s event, is leading the effort to reconvene this year in Charlottesville. He has also signed a consent decree. He is allowed to return to Charlottesville, and organize a rally, but he must instruct those who join him not to be armed.
The fact that so many marchers last year bore arms is central to another lawsuit filed by Roberta Kaplan on behalf of 11 Charlottesville residents, including several wounded when a white supremacist rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one.
Kaplan says the defendants’ First Amendment defense does not cover the actual violence. Among the plaintiffs is a Jewish dermatologist.
“People are entitled to have their First Amendment beliefs in this country and to speak those beliefs, but what they’re not allowed to do in this country is to plan, commit and then celebrate violence motivated by those beliefs,” she told NPR earlier this year. A judge earlier this month allowed the lawsuit to go forward.
(Kaplan won the 2013 Supreme Court case that helped legalize same-sex marriage, US v. Windsor.)
While Charlottesville has denied Kessler a permit for his planned reunion, his lawsuit against the city gets a hearing this week. Kessler is also planning a parallel protest in Washington, DC, near the White House. The National Park Service has approved a permit.
The leaders: Down but not all are out
Richard Spencer is the think-tank face of white supremacism. (He founded the National Policy Institute, which endeavors to lend intellectual support to the movement.)
He is named in the lawsuit Kaplan filed. According to reports, Spencer’s once prolific campus appearances have dried up and for a period he had trouble finding a lawyer to defend him.
Raising money for his defense was also a problem — crowdfunding sites were prone to keep him off their platforms.
Jason Kessler, a Charlottesville local, is still fighting the fight and leading the attempt to reconvene a sequel. The New York Times reports that he still gets into it with fellow residents who resent his role in last year’s rally.
Christopher Cantwell earned the sobriquet “crying Nazi” for appearing disconsolate in a video he posted last August after a warrant was issued for his arrest for the assault of protesters.
He was the subject of a Vice video on the rally in which he said he longed for a president “a lot more racist than Donald Trump” and who would “not give his daughter to a Jew.”
He was convicted and sentenced last week to time served, plus agreement to stay out of the state of Virginia for five years. True to form, Cantwell cursed the Jews on his way out of the courthouse. He wasn’t crying.
Matthew Heimbach co-founded the Traditionalist Worker’s Party. With its black uniforms and helmets, the group was an imposing and at times violent presence at the rally. He now faces trial for assaulting his wife and the co-founder of his party after the pair found him in a trailer committing adultery.
The mayors — a Jew hands off to a black woman
Michael Signer, the mayor last year, got it from all sides. A Jewish professor of politics of the University of Virginia, he came under anti-Semitic attack and also was criticized by some residents who excoriated the municipal and police leadership for not sufficiently preparing for the rally.
Signer is on the talk circuit now, including appearing at events by Jewish groups, from BBYO to the ADL.
Among his critics was local activist Nikuyah Walker, who went on to become the town’s first black female mayor — with Signer’s backing. She has made redressing racial inequities a central plank of her term.
Extremism sneaks into the mainstream
Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, issued a clarion call last week.
Asked about the “alt-right” at an American Enterprise Institute event, the Wisconsin Republican said, “We have to go back and fight for our ground and re-win these ideas and marginalize these guys the best we can to the corners. Do everything you can to defeat it.”
Ryan sounded resolute — except he’s leaving politics at the end of the year.
Meantime, far right extremists win Republican primaries. (State and national Republican parties denounce them.)
The Republican establishment explains that many (but not all) of the extremists are sneaking in through primaries in solidly Democratic districts where the state and national GOP chose not to field or back a credible candidate.
Critics of President Donald Trump wonder whether the extremism is a feature or a bug of Republican politics under his administration. They accuse the president of race-baiting when, for example, he uses words like “animals” to describe immigrant criminals.
The White House said the term applied exclusively to gangs like the notorious MS-13.
Trump warned this month that European leaders “better watch themselves” because immigration is “changing the culture” of their societies.