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When Hate Came to Town

University community comes together after supremacists march on Rotunda, wreak havoc downtown

Beta Bridge, painted in support after the events Maeve Curtin (Col ’18)

It was a weekend of lighted torches and chilling slogans, of violence and three dead.

It began with largely outside elements of neo-Nazis marching around the Rotunda on Friday, Aug. 11, and ended the following day with fighting in the streets of downtown Charlottesville. In the aftermath, the University community came together to condemn bigotry and to reaffirm UVA’s commitment to inclusion.

UVA Rector Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III issued a statement Aug. 13, saying: “The actions of those who visited evil upon us are nothing short of white nationalist and white supremacist terrorism intended to intimidate our community. They will not succeed. We will not surrender.”

In announcing the University’s return to regular operation, President Teresa Sullivan wrote: “The weekend events do not define Charlottesville or the University of Virginia.  Our community comes together in times of great need, and in the coming days we will continue an important dialogue and begin the healing process.”

She went on to frame the issue in terms of “mutual respect,” “shared values” and, echoing a principle from the UVA Honor System, “our community of trust.”

The statements came after several hundred marched with tiki torches onto Grounds late that Friday, ahead of a planned Saturday protest downtown in newly renamed Emancipation Park, site of a statue of Robert E. Lee slated for reassignment. According to media and other accounts, white nationalists assembled in Nameless Field behind Memorial Gym and at one point made their way to St. Paul’s Memorial Church on the Corner, where congregants were advised to stay in place.

Aryn A. Frazier (Col ’17) told the New York Times of her experience there: “I was locked in a church full of people, who were singing loudly to overpower the hate-filled chants of alt-right protesters carrying torches right outside the chapel doors.”

The marchers then moved through Grounds, chanting, “You will not replace us/Jews will not replace us,” circling the Rotunda and ending up at the statue of Thomas Jefferson. According to reports, Dean of Students Allen W. Groves was hurt in the violence that ensued between the hundreds of marchers and the couple of dozen students who surrounded the statue in counterprotest.

In a statement the next day, Sullivan acknowledged the rights of the protesters, but also the limits of those rights. As a public University, UVA allows access to its open spaces, and it has always championed First Amendment rights of speech and assembly. “At the same time,” she said, “we know that the ideologies and beliefs expressed by many of the groups that have converged on Charlottesville this weekend contradict our values of diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect. We strongly condemn intimidating and abhorrent behavior intended to strike fear and sow division in our community. Acts of violence are not protected by the First Amendment.”

More violence came the next day, as hundreds associated with the so-called alt-right sought to protest at Emancipation Park. As clashes escalated, police declared the rally an unlawful assembly before the event’s noon start time. White supremacists and counterprotesters clashed violently all day—as shown on news reports.

One woman died after a driver plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. A 20-year-old man from Ohio who was seen in white supremacy gear has been charged in the incident. Two state police officers who were involved in policing the riot also died after their helicopter crashed in a wooded area that day.

As of press time, the University was formulating plans and programming to address the events, to reassert core principles, and move the University forward.