Charlottesville Riots Widen
The Social Gap in America
As we in the Monitor have been warning for about five years, the social gaps in American society are widening and the possibility of an American civil war is increasing.
Even moderate publications like the Washington Post have started sounding extremist. This week a Washington Post opinion piece said, “Segregationists have again assumed their pedestals in the Justice Department, the White House and many other American temples. Paper alone won’t drive them out. Start throwing rocks.”
The latest event was the racist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia over the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. The violence led to many injuries and one death caused by a neo-Nazi, who ran his car into a crowd.
However, the forces pulling America apart can’t be viewed in an easy black and white manner. Some of the forces involved go back over a century and many more to the Obama Years.
The spark for this event was a decision by the Charlottesville city government to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a park. This led to a request by the group “Unite the Right” to protest the decision.
Removal of the statue of General Lee is a controversial move.
The event has roots in the American Civil War over 150 years ago. Although slavery was a major issue between the Union and the Confederacy, there were also social and political differences too.
General Lee is the best-known Confederate general. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee was offered command of Union forces by President Lincoln. However, Lee declined the offer and went with his native state of Virginia, even though he personally denounced the secession as “nothing but revolution.”
A career army officer, Lee didn’t have much wealth, but he inherited a few slaves from his mother. Still, Lee married into one of the wealthiest slave-holding families in Virginia — the Custis family of Arlington and descendants of Martha Washington. When Lee’s father-in-law died, he took leave from the U.S. Army to run the struggling estate and met resistance from slaves expecting to be freed.
Documents show Lee was a cruel figure with his slaves and encouraged his overseers to severely beat slaves captured after trying to escape. One slave said Lee was one of the meanest men she had ever met.
During the next four years, Lee and his outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia carried out many campaigns in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in the face of superior forces.
After his surrender, Lee resisted calls for continuing the war as a guerrilla campaign.
Needless to say, advocating the removal of a statue of General Lee was expected to spark controversy, especially amongst many in the South who still revere General Lee.
However, it appears that this attitude is found outside the South too. A poll taken in May asked if American voters approved of removing Confederate monuments. Just 19% favored it, while 69% opposed it.
It was in this light that Charlottesville’s government decided to remove the Lee statue. Needless to say, it sparked protest. This in turn brought many protestors who favored the removal.
While many on both sides wanted a peaceful protest, there were some on both sides who wanted to instigate violence especially the KKK and Neo- Nazis. When the Charlottesville and Virginia governments ordered the police to stand down, it allowed the radical elements to turn the protest into a riot.
Although most Americans are disgusted by the violence, many have tried to use the event for political gain. The result is that an event that should unite Americans in sadness is being used to polarize the nation. The result will be more civil unrest and a greater chance of civil war.
So, who are the players and what do they hope to gain by this increase in civil unrest?
Many people came to the demonstrations to protest peacefully. However, there were many who hoped to gain an advantage through violent protest.
UNITE THE RIGHT. This was the group that received the permit to protest. Although it claimed to be a coalition of conservative right-wing groups, it actually brought in extremist groups like white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. It was these extremists’ groups that came prepared for a fight.
Like most radical groups, who hope to start a violent revolution, their hope was to spur some sort of violence that would quickly spread throughout the US. These groups would then use the unrest to install their type of society.
One thing complicating the issue is that it has been learned that the “Unite the Right” organizer, Jason Kessler, is a former “Occupy Wall Street organizer (a leftist protest group) and Obama supporter according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Kessler has admitted his background on an Internet interview, but insists that he “has seen the light.”
ANTIFA AND BLACK LIVES MATTER. These groups, along with other splinter communist and socialist groups were the backbone of the counter protestors. Like the radical right, they came prepared for violence.
Marxist-Leninist revolutionary thought says that revolution must be sparked by an event that galvanizes the proletariat. Examples include the storming of the Bastille at the beginning of the French Revolution and the storming of the Winter Palace in the Russian Revolution.
Clearly, they hoped that a violent reaction by either the police or right-wing extremists would precipitate such an event.
Keep in mind that future demonstrations by these groups (left and right) will have the same goal of precipitating a revolution.
MILITIAS. Militias are different from militant groups in that they are better organized and usually have a military command structure. Although militias can be found across the political spectrum, they are most prevalent on the right. It is these that were seen at Charlottesville.
Several militias attended the demonstrations in order to protect the “Unite the Right” demonstrators. These included the Light Foot Militias of Pennsylvania and New York and the III Percenters. The III Percenters are a national group that has had members at several controversial events across the country. However, it appears that they were somewhat disciplined and largely stayed out of the ensuing violence.
The increasing violence has apparently caused some militias to prepare for an upcoming civil war. However, although many militia members have military training, like their predecessors in the American Revolution they are probably of negligible military value.
POLITICIANS. Politicians have jumped in to gain political advantage from this riot.
President Trump was slow to condemn the right-wing extremists and tried to stay in the middle by condemning both sides for the violence. In this, he was playing to his voter base and the American electorate in general, who opposes violence at protests. He may upset the media and many on the more liberal coasts, but it plays well with Middle America. Don’t expect him to change his tone in the near future.
One person who may be trying to use the event to further his presidential ambitions is Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2020. A well thought out response to civil unrest has pushed people up the political ladder – as it did President Calvin Coolidge.
However, McAuliffe’s response may have hurt him. He not only told the police to stand down, which allowed the violence to escalate, he blamed the liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the violence. The ACLU had supported the Unite the Right’s right to protest, but is a force in the Democratic Party.
Other Democratic politicians are also trying to gain headlines by calling for the dismantlement of Confederate monuments in their towns and states. Although this may play well within their party, it is of marginal value in gaining the votes of independents during a general election.
Unfortunately, the threat isn’t over. Both sides are holding rallies in many cities across the nation in the coming weeks. Anyone of these could be the spark that explodes the increasingly volatile powder keg that is the American population.
However, the weather may be able to calm down the passions that the politicians have been unable to do. As America moves out of summer and into fall, demonstrating outside in cold temperatures becomes less popular. People are more likely to remain inside and watch football.
If violence starts to spread in the next few weeks, the future becomes murky. There could be a renewed push to remove Trump, but as we noted a few weeks ago, a constitutional move to remove him would be difficult and take time. And, there is no guarantee that removing Trump would calm the violence. Many Americans approve of Trump and they could cause even more trouble – especially if the way Trump is removed is questionable.
Increasing violence could also boost the chances of the referendum in California to secede from the US. And, as we have noted in the past, such a move would only cause a cascade of secession movements in other states.
Forget the rise of a new Confederacy. The old Confederacy was unified politically, but these states are politically diverse today. Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida are much more cosmopolitan and voted for Obama. And, there are the major cities of the south like Atlanta that are more left wing than right wing.
However, the campaign to eliminate monuments to America’s past continues – which will only make matters worse. There are already calls to eliminate the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson was a slave holder. There are even calls to remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the New York Museum of Natural History, even though he was only 2 years old at the beginning of the Civil War and neither he nor his family owned slaves. Some have already called such actions equivalent to the moves by ISIS and the Taliban to destroy historical monuments in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
The more either side pushes, the greater the chances of more violence and eventual civil war.
If an American civil war takes place, it will not be like the one 150 years ago where both the North and the South were geographically compact and homogeneous. Today, there are liberal enclaves in conservative states and conservative enclaves in liberal states. The same is true with different races. A civil war could take on the complexion of the Syrian or Yugoslavian civil wars, where conflict would take place across the nation instead of being limited to a battlefront.
If that is the case, the solution might be the one seen in the former Yugoslavia – division into several ethnic and political nations.
Note, that we say, “If,” not will. America has faced and survived many threats. The question is if it can survive this one or will become a new Balkans.