Last year, hundreds of far-right white supremacists marched in Charlottesville in a rally titled “Unite the Right.” The organizers said it was their intent to “unite” conservatism around their racist politics. A member of the far-right protest, James Alex Fields Jr., rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others. Two state troopers also died in a helicopter crash while covering the rally. This year, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler planned a sequel to the rally in Washington D.C., and it fizzled out before it even began. Here are some highlights from the array of journalists sent to cover this open expression of hatred, and the massive response against it.
The biggest news came from the counter-protests (besides the fact that the police closed a public space in order to provide security to white supremacists on the DC Metro). Some have been characterized as “clashes” with the media and police, but that would be overstating most of the violence reported. As DeJuan Hoggard's video shows, the counter-protesters were focused on disrupting their coverage, not injuring reporters. Now, this is in violation of the spirit of a free press, but there is a perfectly logical reason for counter-protesters and antifa to want to shield themselves from coverage: Neo-Nazis have been known to use these media clips to try to track down counter-protesters. When you see someone obscuring their face from the camera, consider it a form of self-defense. The pearl-clutching from some folks in the media wholly misunderstands the rationale behind this kind of behavior, and you can see the trained “both-sidesism” activating in their brains on tweets like this.
That's not to wholly excuse this behavior. Some counter-protesters met the media with similar bile and anger as those on the far right. This is a nuanced issue that comes down to where you draw the line on the slippery slope, and far too many mainstream media types looked past the larger picture to indulge their training in both-sides “journalism.” Andy Campbell, senior reporter for Huffington Post, skewered this brand of coverage succinctly.
One side came out to support an ideology whose logical conclusion is the elimination of minorities, like this Jewish writer. The other came out to oppose it. Any journalist equating the two sides through “violence” isn't doing their job. Besides, according to the white supremacists, the counter-protests worked.
While some in the media tried to make semi-violent outbursts from a smattering of antifa members the face of the counter-protests, if anyone should be the face of yesterday's opposition, it's Susan Bro, the brave, eloquent mother of the late Heather Heyer.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.