Trump Added Insult to Injury for Charlottesville Survivors

“I really thought that it was something that I could kind of brush over and move past, like a lot of other things in my life. And it didn’t turn out to be like that.”

Photo of Natalie Romero
Christian Filardo

When Donald Trump took the oath of office on a gray January morning in 2017, he laid out his vision for the United States under his leadership. “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease,” he said. “A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.” Nearly four years later, the divide in how we view the consequences of his first term remains large. But the nation is undeniably changed. From family separation, to nation-wide protests and economic volatility, to a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, Trump will leave behind a legacy—whether he’s reelected or not. We are telling the stories of seven individuals living with the consequences of Trump’s first term. You can read the rest of the stories here.

In the summer of 2017, Natalie Romero had just finished her first year at the University of Virginia. She was a first-generation, former ROTC student on scholarships, adjusting to the culture shock of moving from Houston to Charlottesville. On Friday, August 11, white supremacists bearing tiki torches swarmed the university’s rotunda, chanting racist slogans and getting into fights with anti-racist protesters. Natalie and a group of other student organizers showed up to oppose them that night, and they made plans to gather again the next day. She was taking part in a march on August 12 when a neo-Nazi drove his car through the crowd, injuring 19 people and murdering a woman named Heather Heyer. Images of Natalie, bloodied and badly hurt by the attack, circulated widely on the internet.

Three days later, President Trump, referring to the Unite the Right protesters in Charlottesville, told reporters that “you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” I spoke with Romero in early September about her experience and the president’s remarks. What follows is her story in her own words, condensed and edited for clarity.

I don’t remember who showed me the clip. I tried to stay off of social media for a little bit and not really look at stuff. But when I heard that—“very fine people on both sides”—it was one of the most disrespectful things that this man could have ever said. The most disrespectful and ignorant thing I could have ever heard come out of the president of the United States.

It’s pretty heartbreaking. Like, Wow, you’re about to be a year in, sir. You have done nothing but disrespect so many minority and marginalized communities. Then something like this happens, where white supremacists are very comfortable walking around in Nazi memorabilia and white-supremacist memorabilia, and they were spewing terrorism all over the internet, and then they came out here and they did acts of terrorism against people. People that Mr. Trump is supposed to protect.

This was August 12. School started within the next couple of days. And I was like, I don’t care. I don’t care. Roll me up to class in a wheelchair. I will not not start classes. I really thought that it was something that I could kind of brush over and move past, like a lot of other things in my life. And it didn’t turn out to be like that.

I ended up taking the semester off. Some of the long-term things have been, like, it gave me really bad vertigo. I can’t look into light. I got terrified of driving. I was terrified to leave my house. And at some point, I started to receive threatening phone calls—really, really disturbing phone calls. One of them being like, “Hi, ma’am, we’re trying to sell silver Dodge Challengers in Charlottesville.” Or, “Hi, do you know Natalie Romero? She should have died in the hospital.” That really left me in a state of distress.

It was a decision, whether or not I was going to come back after that withdrawal. I didn’t know if I wanted to come back to UVA, but I decided that, you know, I’m getting my school paid for, and I just absolutely do not have the privilege of putting this opportunity to the side right now. So I came back.