I Was In Charlottesville
On August 11th, a group of White nationalists marched on the campus at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tiki torches lit up hundreds of faces that proudly chanted Nazi slogans: “Sieg Heil!” and “Blood and Soil!” Tempers flared as the marchers arrived at the Jefferson Monument. As they circled around the monument, they began to chant “WHITE LIVES MATTER!” , “YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US!”, and “BLOOD & SOIL!” Circled around the monument were a group of UVA students who bravely chanted “Black Lives Matter!” Among the students and counter protesters were photographers who captured the violence that took place that night.
I had been searching for photos of the pre rally that set stage for the larger planned ‘Unite the Right’ rally on Saturday. As most of my peers, I had gotten word of what was happening via Twitter. The images and videos coming out of the event were horrifying. The sheer hate in the faces of some of these men was haunting. It felt like I was witnessing a strengthened resurgence of White Supremacy. It was 12pm ET and I was on the verge of tears--about to log off, but then I came across a photo that gave me hope.
This was the photo that led me to Instagram User @M1523751, M* as I like to call her. M had posted this photo on her Instagram. I was so inspired by this photo, so much so that I immediately contacted M, and asked if we could discuss what had happened that night in Charlottesville. She agreed to do so right away and a couple days after the “Unite the Right” rally, she told me her personal account of what had happened at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
She began by sending me a photo that she had taken.
Can you explain what was happening when this image was taken?
This image shows when the torch crowd charged in, with physical violence (bald guy center) and chemicals (some aerosol spray - pepper spray/mace/bear spray, don't know). After the chemical dispersal, the protesters evacuated.
They linked arms for safety; some additionally went to medics.
Another photographer got a face full of something that burned his skin; I received peripheral spray - could still see fine, but burning skin.
Also was "moved" by a marcher. I don't know why. Suddenly I was bear-hugged from behind and tossed to the side.
It's likely I was deemed as not a threat because I had a camera; that has been my experience before. Of course, while shadowing the march, marchers did verbally and physically assault journalists and photographers.
Backing up the timeline, once the torches surrounded the statue, there was nowhere to go. Every angle was a threat. They yelled. They physically intimidated. It was unbelievably scary.
I believed they would try to take the statue. I am not surprised they took it by force.
Could you give us any insight on what the UVA students were enduring and how the protesters reacted towards them?
I can only surmise that they were scared. I know they were chanting but I can't remember. It's a blank. I've depended on that picture of them with the sign to illustrate their message. It also doesn't help that once the torches surrounded us, by me, a bunch of white men were yelling "YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US", which drowned out everything else. They yelled other things too, but again, a lot of what was said is a blur.
I had my back to the protesters for the most part. It seemed safest. I was also concentrating on how the marchers were reacting to the protesters, which was a mix of hesitancy as to what to do now and spewing verbal assault.
My corner of the statue shared a side with the corner where the assault started (thus the spray) but was relatively non-violent. A lot of intimidation, though.
One last question: Are there any photos you'd like us to use? Some that could help illustrate your account.
I think my partner's photo would be a good one - already asked him about you using it to support my account and he said it was fine.
I'm in the process of going through other pictures, and there is at least one other one I have that would be good to add (marchers shouting). I would also recommend finding one of the torches encircling the monument.
I also want to point out that law enforcement was not visible. As in, nowhere. The first time I saw uniformed officers was after the assault, the crowds had already separated and had begun to disperse.
They finished my night by forming a line and threatening arrest to anyone who was still in the courtyard around the statue. I never got an account as to why they did what they did or why they didn't try to stop the violence. Ultimately, we were herded onto the grass. By that point, the majority of people left were journalists and photographers.
* Names are kept confidential to protect the privacy of the individuals we have been in communication with