Charlottesville: My experience
Nobody knows that I went to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Well, my immediate family knows, and one or two close friends, but nobody else. Most of the country thinks that the rally was a gathering of belligerent male White supremacists, a modern-day Nazi uprising. I am a quiet middle aged woman, mother of small children, church-goer, and I don't know whether or not you would consider me a "fine person," but I am most definitely not a Nazi. I am here to share my story. It does not conform to what most of the media wants you to believe.
I made the drive from SC to VA the Friday before the Charlottesville rally. While taking in the rural mountain scenery, I was feeling incredibly thankful to have been born in such a beautiful and blessed part of the world. Looking at the old buildings along the way, I contemplated the hardships the settlers in the area had faced, including those of my own ancestors who had been in the Southeastern US since before the American Revolution. Considering what those who came before me had been willing to do to secure their freedoms and protect their way of life, wasn't it the very least I could do to attend a rally in support of a statue to one of the greatest men our country has ever produced?
There had been many, many stories in the previous months of statues and other symbols of the founding population being torn down or slated for removal - many, but not all, Confederate. The fights to secure these symbols had been defensive, apologetic, and largely ineffectual. When I heard Jason Kessler speak about defending the statue of General Lee in Charlottesville, he had been bold and unapologetic, fiercely defending our rights to honor our heritage while standing up to the authorities in one of the most far-left cities in the South. FINALLY, I thought, someone is REALLY fighting.
I was also interested in hearing the speakers. There were some with whom I was unfamiliar, and others with whom I expected to disagree. However, I am a firm believer in free speech. I am not afraid of ideas, and I think that if you believe someone's viewpoint to be erroneous, you should prove them wrong with debate, not suppression. And how can you do that if you don't even know or understand what they believe?
I was planning to meet a friend for the event, an attorney turned stay-at-home mother. We had bonded online over our grief at the loss of the America we had grown up in, and our desire to preserve Western values and history for our children. She had grown up in Upstate New York, and only a few decades before had learned in public school that Robert E Lee was an American hero, worthy of respect by all Americans. She, too, thought the trip to Virginia to fight for his statue was worthwhile.
When I arrived at my hotel late Friday afternoon, it was swarming with police officers who had apparently driven in from other parts of the state as reinforcements for the event and were being put up there overnight. In the morning, I met up with my friend to go to the rally. An online acquaintance had informed me that there was a staging area at MacIntyre Park about a mile away from Lee Park, with plenty of parking and free shuttles to the rally. We parked, got in the line for the shuttle, and made small talk with others in the line as we waited. We met a friendly man from my home state, a father of five, who was attending the rally alone. We talked about our children. Hundreds of people were milling around in the MacIntyre parking lot. There were a variety of groups gathered and I saw lot of different flags, many of which I did not recognize. I did not see any Nazi flags at all.
There were dozens of police officers walking about, and my friend and I made a point to wave, smile, and say "thank you!" to all of them. We wanted them to know that the attendees did not view law enforcement as our enemy.
Once we got off the shuttle, we followed the crowd towards Lee Park which was a block or two away. It was late morning, and as the sun climbed, the combination of the August heat and the thick crowd were making things feel very stifling and uncomfortable.
As we were propelled forward by the crowd, we saw that people up ahead were being funneled into a narrow pathway marked by portable, waist-high barriers. A black man who had been peacefully protesting approached my friend and me, both middle-aged women in everyday clothing, with a look of concern. He warned us that we would be passing through a gauntlet of people wielding mace and flinging feces before reaching the park, and asked the men in line with us to protect us. I was deeply touched by his kindness and concern. We thanked him profusely.
I did not observe any police officers as we made our way from the shuttle to the park.
Thanks to luck and a line of well-prepared rally attendees holding up shields along the pathway, we arrived in the park safely. Once inside barriers, however, I immediately witnessed 3 or 4 people lying on the ground in pain, red-faced with runny eyes, apparently having been maced. Others who had had the foresight to bring first aid supplies were tending to them. I also saw a number of people with stained clothing, and learned that they had been beset by Antifa flinging a mixture of paint, human waste, and other unknown noxious chemicals. There was a faint haze in the air from smoke bombs that protesters had thrown inside the park, an easy task since they were bridled only by a row of low, portable barriers.
I then spotted some police officers in riot gear on one side of the park. They were gathered together in a group, and did not seem to be interacting with rally attendees or protesters at all, despite the fact that there was plenty of chaos in the area.
While milling amongst the crowd in the relative safety of the inner park, I was excited to spot one of the scheduled speakers, Pax Dickinson. I had never met him, but I knew who he was from social media. Pax had once been the Chief Information Officer at Business Insider, until some of his enemies in the corporation dug up some old tweets which were deemed offensive. The result is that he was not only ousted from his job, but blacklisted from his entire industry. Because of the free speech issues raised by his plight, he had been interviewed by John Stossel and featured in Mike Cernovich's documentary about censorship, Silenced. My friend and I introduced ourselves to him and we made small talk for a few minutes.
While we were waiting inside the park for the events of the day to begin, a voice on a loudspeaker announced that our assembly had been declared unlawful, and that we must disperse or face arrest. I was baffled. I had been following Jason Kessler's court battle for the rally permit closely because I had to drive a long way to attend, and I knew he had secured the permit. The crowd was abuzz with confusion. My friend was quickly spiraling into a panic, since we were being forced into an armed, hostile mob of protesters, and we were a mile away from our car. She was frantically searching the crowd for a VIP who, we had noticed earlier, had private security in tow, in the hopes that we could escape safely by latching on to them. The police had been passively allowing the crowd to run amuck all day, and there was no reason to believe they would be of any help.
Meanwhile, a gaggle of men wearing white polos and headsets, apparently involved with rally operations, were looking around and conferring with businesslike concern. They quickly disbanded and started giving directions to attendees in the crowd. They had fashioned a plan to evacuate as many people as possible in an orderly fashion through a corner of Lee Park, and back to the staging area at MacIntyre Park. We asked Pax Dickinson, who was still standing nearby, if he wanted to join us in leaving with the group. He indicated that he and a few of the other scheduled speakers were going to "stay and do the civil disobedience thing." [Note: His account of the events of that day, particularly his harrowing interaction with the police, is a must-read for anyone who wants to know the truth about what happened in Charlottesville.]
We joined the orderly, double-file line and nervously exited the park. The men in the line were shielding us from the crowd, and we got through the thick of it unscathed. The white Polo-wearing men stood alongside the line as we made our way on foot the entire mile back to MacIntyre, continuously reminding us to tighten up the line and move quickly. The line stretched as far as I could see in both directions – hundreds of people. There were protesters (and a few supporters) along the road for nearly the entirety of our trek.
Back at MacIntyre Park, people scattered. There was mass confusion. Many people who had been separated from the other members of their party, or were far away from their cars, were trying to figure out what to do next. Others were looking at their phones, sharing information and rumors, and trying to figure out WHAT IN THE HELL HAD JUST HAPPENED?? Luckily we were able to get into our car and back to the hotel without any trouble.
Thankful to be safely back at the hotel, I showered, settled into the bed, and turned on the TV. I was stunned and appalled by what I saw. The talking heads were breathlessly reporting about the events in Charlottesville, and they were presenting it as though a group of Nazis had laid siege to the city. They showed still photos of rally attendees who had (wisely, in retrospect) brought helmets, shields, and sticks for self-defense, and implied that they were on the attack. They had it all wrong! I wanted to scream, "NO! THEY ARE NOT NAZIS! AND THEY WERE FIGHTING THEIR WAY THROUGH A HOSTILE CROWD THAT THE AUTHORITIES FORCED THEM INTO!"
It would have been pointless. The politically inexperienced new right was outplayed by the treacherous old school. The damning photos were taken that could be used to create the desired narrative: that the new right were dangerous, Trump-inspired Nazis. The death of Heather Heyer later in the day further cemented that narrative.
Based on my experience, I CAN ONLY CONCLUDE THAT THE AUTHORITIES INTENDED TO CREATE AS MUCH MAYHEM AS POSSIBLE. Despite what is widely believed, it was the rally organizers who acted to minimize the violence. Their quick thinking and action saved lives. I am sure of it.
The next morning, my friend and I had breakfast in the hotel lobby before driving back to our respective hometowns. There were some uniformed police having breakfast, and others checking out at the front desk. Overnight, my feeling towards them had gone from appreciation to anger and disgust. How dare they wear that uniform if they are going to sit idly by as people are maimed and killed? I wondered why they had even bothered to come to Charlottesville.
It was an infuriating and helpless feeling, seeing the false narrative take on a life of its own over the next few days and weeks. It was also surreal knowing that I had been in the midst of something that had such a huge impact on the nation, when I had expected it would probably only make the local news. I had honestly expected that the most dangerous part of attending the rally would be the drive to Virginia.
Since August of last year, I given a great deal of thought to what I witnessed in Charlottesville, and the impact that the event, and the lies that have been told about it, have had on the nation. I have wondered what purpose my experience there could serve, and whether God drew me to this event, unlike anything I have ever done in my life, for a reason. Maybe that reason is so I can tell you the truth.
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The Carolina Contrarian, Anne Wilson Smith, is the author of Charlottesville Untold: Inside Unite the Right. She is a soft-spoken Southern belle by day, opinionated writer by night. She loves Jesus, her family, and her hometown. She enjoys floral dresses and acoustic guitar music. You may contact Carolina Contrarian at CarolinaContrarian@protonmail.com.