What The Right-Wing Media Got Wrong About Charlottesville

They're playing a dangerous blame game.

This past weekend, a “Unite the Right” rally led by white supremacists sparked deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But in the aftermath of the protest, many conservative or right-leaning outlets and pundits have tiptoed around ― or outright denied ― the role of white supremacy at the rally, which was attended by neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, “white nationalist” organizations and members of the so-called “alt-right.”

We want to clear up some of their versions of the events in Charlottesville.

White supremacists are to blame for white supremacy ― not “identity politics.”

White supremacist groups ― whose various ideologies assert that whites should have dominance over people of other races, that races should be physically separated and that countries or regions should be defined by a white racial identity, among other nakedly racist ideas ― came to Charlottesville ready for a fight. They openly carried long guns, dressed in militia uniforms, chanted the Nazi phrase “Blood and soil!” and admitted to surrounding counterprotesters at a Thomas Jefferson statue, lit torches in hand.

"Unite the Right" protestors gather in Charlottesville carrying flags emblazoned with swastikas.
"Unite the Right" protestors gather in Charlottesville carrying flags emblazoned with swastikas.
Andy Campbell

They should be held accountable for their beliefs and the violence committed in the movement’s name ― but in the days following the mayhem, much of conservative media has engaged in a dangerous blame game.

The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote Sunday that “the larger poison driving events like those in Virginia” is identity politics ― a phrase that refers to groups of people forming political opinions based on their shared racial or social background. The term is usually used to criticize groups like Black Lives Matter as being divisive or exclusionary in their pursuit of equality.

The Wall Street Journal went on to suggest that racial inequalities haven’t been a problem in the U.S. since the civil rights movement ― until now.

“‘Diversity’ is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever,” the editorial board wrote, arguing that the civil rights movement was able to “overcome” white supremacy in the 1960s.

In a New York Times op-ed, right-wing commentator Erick Erickson described the “social justice warrior alt-left and the white supremacist alt-right as two sides of the same coin.”

One of these groups believes some people should be denied fundamental rights based on the color of their skin, and one does not, so there’s not really an equivalence there.

White supremacists are not acting out for the media or on behalf of liberal conspirators.

There’s no evidence that white supremacists ― whose ideology has had a foothold in the U.S. since the nation’s founding ― are a product of the media covering their actions in places like Berkeley, Portland, New Orleans and Gettysburg over the past year.

Rather, analysts and members of the movement say, white supremacists have been so bold lately in part because they feel empowered by President Donald Trump and his reluctance to single them out for condemnation.

“No condemnation at all,” said a post on the prominent white nationalist site Daily Stormer, describing Trump’s initial, tepid remarks on the protest. “Really, really good. God bless him.”

But Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, in his Monday night monologue on “The Five,” argued that those white supremacists would go away if the press only stopped covering them ― calling the events “a death sport fought in the coliseum of modern media.”

“These Nazis are repugnant slugs who need shunning, as well as their violent counterparts,” Gutfeld said, as footage of violence at the rally played on the screen. “But they won’t be, as long as the media races to capture the action, then virtue-signals themselves to death afterwards.”

Fringe right-wing personalities ― whose ideas almost always manage to gain some traction on social media ― took the blame a step further.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, founder of the website Infowars, ran with claims that the whole protest was a scheme by the left to make the right look bad.

“EXCLUSIVE: Virginia Riots Staged To Bring In Martial Law, Ban Conservative Gatherings,” read the headline on a video Jones published Saturday.

Mike Cernovich, the so-called “meme mastermind of the alt-right,” used Charlottesville to re-up the conspiracy theory that philanthropist George Soros is an all-powerful puppet master controlling U.S. progressives.

This isn’t a “few bad apples” situation.

On Sunday, “Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth argued that many of the people attending the Charlottesville rally were not racist ― they were just upset with the direction of the country.

“There’s a reason those people were out there,” he said. “Some of it is outright racism and needs to be condemned. A lot of it, though, is I feel like my country is slipping away and just because I talk about nationalism ― not white nationalism ― doesn’t mean I’m talking in code that I’m a racist.”

But those turns of phrase often are code for racism. Concerns about the country “slipping away” and the loss of “Western civilization” and “European heritage” are common talking points for white supremacists, who believe the white identity is under attack and who advocate for white-only spaces.

Hegseth also compared so-called “nationalists” to members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and called for sympathy for them.

“Just like young white men who feel like, ‘Hey, I’m treated differently in this country than I feel like I should have,’” he said. “‘I’ve become a second-class citizen... They tell me I have white privilege.’”

Trump argued on Tuesday that among the “Unite the Right” rallygoers ― a group that included people with Nazi flags, people chanting “Jews will not replace us” and people defending a statue of a general who fought on behalf of slave owners ― there were also some “very fine people.”

This deserves your full attention.

By Monday evening, coverage of Charlottesville had mostly disappeared from the front pages of Fox News, Breitbart, the Drudge Report and other conservative outlets.

One America News, a right-leaning outlet recently granted seats in the White House press briefing room, didn’t mention Charlottesville at all in a “Week in Review” video posted Monday.

While some outlets have moved on, experts say this type of violence could be just the beginning.

“We’re concerned this is going to spill out of Charlottesville into many other places,” Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, told HuffPost reporters on the ground in Charlottesville over the weekend.

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