STANDING UP TO HATE
A violent clash between white nationalists and protesters leaves a young woman dead and a nation searching for answers
In the wake of a tragedy, resilience surges in the US city of Charlottesville.
It was supposed to be a peaceful show of solidarity against racism and neo-nazi hatred. Beth Foster and hundreds of others from around the country had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 to block a planned march by white nationalists, who were protesting against the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate icon General Robert E. Lee from a park. “Our plan was to link arms and block the entrance to the park,” Foster, director of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, tells WHO. “We formed a line and held each other’s arms and sang ‘This Little Light of Mine’. ”
Yet what began for her as a “beautiful day” ended in horror. As clashes between the marchers and counter-protesters grew increasingly violent, police ordered both groups to disperse, and that’s when 20-yearold James Alex Fields Jr, of Maumee, Ohio, allegedly sped his 2010 Dodge Challenger car into a line of vehicles, causing a chain reaction that killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal, and injured at least 19 others. Says Foster: “I saw the worst evil I have ever witnessed.”
While the US Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the day’s events, President Donald Trump condemned the violence, calling out “the KKK, neoNazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” after critics faulted his initial response that blamed “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
But Foster saw only one side in the “thousands of heroes” she observed shuttling people to safety, giving them comfort. “I saw the greatest love and solidarity and the power we have as people when we stand together,” she says. Heyer “died doing what was right,” her mother wrote on a Gofundme page that raised nearly $225,000 in two days. “My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her.”
Rescue workers tended to the injured after a car ploughed into a crowd opposing white nationalists on Aug. 12.
“Heather was such a sweet soul,” a friend says of Heyer, remembered in a Charlottesville vigil.