We left DC at 5:30pm with a friend of a friend and made the drive to Charlottesville. The festivities started early, as both sides were trying to get there before the other. It was unsettling as soon as we arrived—the city was almost a ghost town. All of the shops closed. There weren’t many people outside. The citizenry was replaced by armed militia in Kevlar, casually unloading in parking lots, and roving bands of fash looking for a fight. Members of Identity Europa, American Vanguard, and other groups were outfitted in identical armor, shields, and clubs, and they spent time before and after the rally trying to fuck shit up.
As we walked to our meeting point at Justice Park, we were following behind one of the American vanguard gangs. Fortunately, Redneck Revolt was guarding Justice Park and other rally points—a few times the American vanguard gang tried to come into the park, but our guys with guns kept them away. They insulted us and tried to scare us—and given the events of the day, I truly believe that if RR had not been there they would have attacked us.
But Justice Park wasn't just populated by armed anti-fascists. There were medics, liberals, and a prayer circle who sought protection there. Once we had enough people, our group of anti-fascists headed towards Emancipation Park, where the main event took place.
The scene was already hostile when we arrived, but it was mostly a stalemate: Fash were throwing bottles, rocks, branches, metal, smoke bombs, and tear gas canisters at us; we would dutifully pick up the projectiles and toss them back, along with a few water bottles and paint balloons of our own.
The fash chose their targets indiscriminately; anyone who was not with them was against them. This included press. I treated a few journalists who had been pepper sprayed, and I saw another get bandaged by a medic. The white nationalist LARPers formed the front line phalanx, but it looked more stupid than tough—seeing as they were behind a line of Oathkeepers and other weekend warriors, then some light bushes and trees, then a small line of local police, then two bike rack barricades. Remember: The fash are dangerous, but they are mostly cowardly opportunists.
For the first hour or so, things were relatively calm. While some of the crowds were throwing things at each other and getting into physical altercations, the rest of the battle lines were rather porous. The militia and cops let the religious folk and some liberals get up to the bike racks to yell at fash, and some of the fash were able to wander through our territory if they weren't starting a fight. Some of the right-wing militia were actually behind us as well.
The cops and IIIs allowed the fash to attack, then retreat to safety. All morning, the Vanguard and Europa squads would come down the stairs and run along the sidewalk that ran parallel to the park, hopping out from behind the militia hoping to get a few opportunistic strikes and pepper sprays before running back up the stairs on the other end. This is how most of the physical confrontations happened.
We knew if we tried to press the line, the trigger-happy cul-de-sac of cowboys with assault rifles would fuck us up—and the cops waiting in the wings would move in. The cops were mostly hands-off the entire day, but we all knew from experience that if the left tried to start shit, they would come down hard. Everyone there knew the right-wingers came to fight, came to hurt or kill us—and that the cops would do nothing to stop them but everything to stop us.
We were facing the fash with one hand tied behind our back. We came to fight them anyway.
My favorite moment of the day was around this time, when the LARPers started chanting "fuck you faggots!" which just caused us to laugh and start the chant "We're here, we're gay, we fight the KKK!" Soon afterwards though, was the most horrifying moment of the day: A few blocks down the street on our right flank appeared a massive procession of mostly Nazis and KKK. It was terrifying to see such massive numbers of legitimately proud members of the National Socialist Party. They didn't cloak themselves in "identitarian" or "alt-right" labels. They were flying Nazi flags, some wearing armbands, and even carried a huge Nazi standard. These are the people who perpetrated the largest genocide in human history, the people we hold up as the personification of evil, the people lazy writers model their villains after—and they were proudly marching down the street in larger numbers than we have seen in recent memory.
As they advanced, I yelled for people to fall back to the left, and a brave group of outnumbered anti-fascists stayed to hold the line even though they were being attacked from two sides. When the column got close enough, they charged the line of leftists peacefully linking arms in the front, viciously attacking everyone with shields, batons, clubs, and chemical weapons. The air was so thick with pepper spray that my arms and face were burned and my mouth had a spicy taste all morning. I don't know how long this brawl lasted, but the streets around the park were engulfed in chaos. I could hear constant blows of fists and sticks and saw bloodied antifa and local protesters being dragged to the back to receive treatment.
As my partner and I provided support behind the front, I was struck by how unprepared the locals and press were. None of them had antacid or eye protection. I passed out all the dust masks and bandanas I brought with me, and I explained to them police tactics and how the day was likely to shake out. I don't blame them; this is a small college town in the summer which doesn't usually experience full on riot cops and state troopers. The fault was ours. Why were there not more of us? The local citizens and clergy called for outsiders to come help defend against literal fucking Nazis. I saw #DefendCville all over the internet, but at Emancipation Park that day there were less than a hundred counter-protesters.
If we can't show up to oppose the largest gathered Nazis, KKK, and other white supremacists, what the fuck is wrong with us?
Even though we were outnumbered at least 5-1, we were able to hold out until early afternoon. Eventually, the cops called an unlawful assembly and a phalanx of riot cops advanced on us. They started to push us down the street.
The riot cops clearing Emancipation Park of the fash took a noticeably delicate approach. You can watch the videos of fash cussing out the cops and physically resisting them, all while the cops just took it—slowly and gently moving the fash out of the park. The leftist crowd did not resist the dispersal order; we headed down the street with the riot cops casually following a couple of blocks behind. At one point, we got to a three-way intersection a few blocks from the park where a moderately sized group of right-wingers, some of whom had guns or armor and shields, faced us from the other side.
We decided not to go that way. That was when I noticed a line of cops advancing towards the intersection from the left and called out that a kettle was forming and for people to get out while they could.
Cornel West and the rest of the clergy had publicly thanked the anarchists and antifascists for protecting them from the fash, and that afternoon they returned the favor. When cops blocked the crowd from leaving the intersection, the clergy all linked arms again and stood in front of the line until they backed down and let us out—presumably because bashing and arresting a bunch of passive clergy would be bad optics.
After we got out, we re-grouped with some other antifascists and a DSA contingent in another nearby park. A half-hour later, we got word that a group of armed fascists were attacking at Friendship Courts, a low income housing complex, with the intention to fuck shit up and attack people of color. We headed out to defend it, but we never made it because the now-infamous car attack happened on the way. (A few other antifascists who were not in our crowd were able to meet up with the locals.)
The state holds part of the blame for the events that weekend, as the whole event wouldn't have happened without their help. Our plan to take and hold the park in the early hours of the morning was tossed aside when a court issued an injunction overnight reinstating the fash's permit for a gathering in Emancipation Park; we knew the cops would not hesitate to clear us out to make way for them. Knowing the city would be hostile to their presence, the fash met up at various parking lots outside town and were bused in; we knew when and where they were meeting, but cops guarded the lots while squad cars escorted the buses into the city.
And when a car was purposefully driven through a crowd by a white supremacist, the first thing the cops did was roll an APC into the street.
Two state troopers in full military gear and assault rifles hopped out while another popped out of the manhole on top and proceeded to point a tear gas grenade launcher at the crowd for the duration. Second on the scene were more cops, who cleared the road and stood there watching as we treated the wounded on the sidewalk. It was then that the riot cops arrived—at about the same time as the Fire Department Emergency Response, who moved in to treat the injured. The ambulance was late to the scene because a police humvee was blocking the road, so it had to reroute around a few blocks of closed streets in order to collect the wounded. While all this was happening, riot cops were slowly meandering down the street.
I've noticed that all the coverage of the event says the car ran into a counter-protest. That’s not what that was. It was a group of people putting their bodies on the line to physically defend a community from an armed white nationalist and white supremacist militia because the state would not.
Medics from our DC crew were performing CPR on Heather Heyer when a cop physically pulled them off of her, disrupting the compressions—which is potentially deadly. A nazi killed Heather, but the police were accessories to her murder.
I couldn't go up the street to collect my phone and gear that flew out of my pack when I was hit because I was scared to approach the cops. When one of the cops offered to take us to the station so we could wait in the AC and give our statements, only one person went with him.
If, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the victims are afraid of the police, there is something wrong with the police.