After a chaotic 24 hours in Charlottesville, Virginia, people on both sides of violent clashes are describing this as a pivotal moment for America’s future.
White nationalists who gathered for the Unite the Right rally blame those who turned out to stop them. They’re “damn communists,” says Andrew Dodson, a 33-year-old inventor who calls himself a “racial realist” and says he is fighting to save white America.
I’ve talked to a lot of people like Dodson in the past year. In 2016, I produced a documentary on Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who has become an icon for the alt-right.
The movement was once an umbrella for many far-right, pro-Trump groups. But once Spencer and others began speaking publicly about their beliefs of white supremacy—a turning point was at a conference I filmed, in November, when attendees broke out in Nazi salutes—many previously in Spencer’s camp began to distance themselves from the movement.
Today, the alt-right is unabashedly white nationalist, and unafraid to share their views. Richard Spencer fantasizes about a white ethno-state—a vision he told me would be like “the Roman empire.” Many in the movement go even farther, calling for mass deportation and ethnic cleansing for Jews and people of color. Though the alt-right is well versed in the language and humor of the internet — communicating in forums like 8chan and Gab— their politics are consistent with previous white supremacist groups.
Charlottesville is now the epicenter of the struggle for white America, Dodson told me. And just because Saturday’s violence seemed to have been contained, the alt-right will continue to “give them hell” in the city.
Dodson seemed annoyed, more than anything, at the news that a car had rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one of them. (Two Virginia state troopers were killed in helicopter crash nearby, in a separate incident.) According to Dodson, the car incident gave the police justification to shut down a large area and end the alt-right's “peaceful assembly.” He and his friends were stuck hanging out in a hotel room nearby as a result, he said.
Along with Dodson and his friends, high-profile anti-fascists have descended on Charlottesville this weekend. Daryl Lamont Jenkins, who is known for doxxing—or revealing the identities of—anonymous white supremacists, was hanging out by the First United Methodist Church in Charlottesville when he picked up the phone to take my call.
Jenkins sounded frustrated. “No one can pat themselves on the back after today,” he told me. The way Jenkins sees it, the city took too long to intervene. Officials let the alt-right do whatever they wanted until the protests got violent.
But, he’s still optimistic. “This is the beginning of the end of the alt-right, that's for sure,” he said. Today’s violence will “wake liberals out of their idleness,” he said. But is awareness enough to stop violent clashes in the future?
Not if Dodson and his crew have anything to say about it. To him, and to other members of the alt-right, the chaos proves a point. “This is a phenomenal victory,” he said.
“Our ideas are so powerful, that the cops have to break the law and use violence against us to shut us down,” he said in a text message after our initial conversation. “This shows just what an unbelievable threat we are to the system.”