Although we didn’t know it at the time, the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017 would soon develop into narrative for the left to repeat and then recycle in the summer riots of 2020 and eventually the events at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Anne Wilson Smith unpacks this narrative in her recent book, Charlottesville Untold, providing needed historical details for those exploring the broader implications of what transpired that fateful day.
Smith writes as someone from within the right. As a result, she does not deal with leftist demonstrators as empathetically as she does the protest participants from Unite the Right, along with their organizer Jason Kessler. But this book is of high value because it underscores the growing sense of being overwhelmed by events that Unite the Right leaders experienced. Smith puts their experience of helplessness into relief since her book includes interviews with her subjects and statements they made while the protest was unfolding.
Kessler, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, was stirred into action by the plan of leftist city officials, including Mayor Mike Signer and vice-mayor Wes Bellamy, to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from downtown Charlottesville. The city council, particularly its black members, had been pushing this action, and it seemed only a matter of time before Lee’s equestrian statue would come down from where it had stood majestically since 1924, a deed which finally happened on July 10, 2021. Kessler petitioned the city council for the right to assemble with likeminded comrades in a central location to protest the statue’s removal. Initially he enjoyed the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which later withdrew its assistance for explicitly ideological reasons.
Kessler’s petition explained that he had been born in Charlottesville and was descended from Confederate veterans. His request was granted after numerous delays, and the demonstration took place as a Unite the Right rally, which, to complicate matters, also attracted vocal white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The rally became mixed with a Ku Klux Klan gathering that took place nearby, whose members hoped to use the Unite the Right demonstration for their own ends.
Network news treatment of Kessler as a “white nationalist” or “Nazi,” as Smith points out, was a shameful smear. But once Kessler announced in an interview with Katie Couric that his defense of the statue was a defense of “Western Civilization and European peoples” whose history “is being torn down,” leftist attacks were bound to follow.