Last night, my wife and I attended the opening of a film called “Charlottesville: Our Streets.” It was a recounting of the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia; on August 12, 2017. Taken from myriad film clips of the rally and its aftermath, the film offers a “take” of the day from the perspectives of its various factions, participants, apologists and protagonists.
Nothing stood out for me more than the utter naivete of those who sought to challenge the messages of the Nazis, White Supremacists, Klansmen and their ilk with peace, hope and love. Nothing so spoke to breakdown of our society than disgusting violence, of what the film depicted going down in the parks and streets of the downtown of our city. That the film seemed a record of an unrestrained riot which included people using sprays of differing sorts and toxicity to eyes and skin; to those on both sides wielding to clubs, bats, poles, shields and more lethal weapons; from the pious singing to the curses and verbal bombs being flung back and forth in an effort to intimidate, taunt, challenge and assault whomever was deemed “the other,” it all was chaos and tumult.
I’m not sure how profoundly this film asserted that these thugs and brutes hadn’t come to Charlottesville to freely express their points of view. This wasn’t an issue of free speech, a complaint over a statue’s removal. They came armed and itching for a fight. That they got one testifies that there were those who opposed them who were equally charged up and ready to do battle. And battle they did in an unrestrained, un-policed and unrestricted brawl that lasted for hours and reignited frequently from one park venue to another, from one street to another.
Last night, I was just one viewer. I wasn’t in Charlottesville when this rioting took place. Had I been here, I hope I would have had the wisdom to have avoided the entire scene. Hearing Nazis march, chanting as they did, “YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US! JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US!” just might have goaded me into taking some sort of foolish action. I would accomplished absolutely nothing by this. One does not meet scum head on without being coated with scum.
At the end of the show, a panel of those involved with this, as yet, unfinished product sat before the attending Virginia Film Festival audience to talk about their experience in producing this documentary. The question which nailed the entirety of the appalling nature of what we had just seen was: “Just how did things come to this? What were the failures of government, police and other authorities that allowed this terrible scourge to take place in this bucolic, college town?
I came away from this viewing with these take-aways: this is far from over. The thuggish groups, indeed, already have been back and have been chased out of the city. But they have vowed to return. This isn’t about statues. It’s about “privilege.” That fight is ongoing and has the imprimatur of the President and others in and out of our government such that the message has become “a curse on all your houses, but we shall keep our hands off while you break heads and battle it out.”
Never has it been so clear that there are violent, trash-talking, impulsive hoodlums, hooligans and goons just begging to brawl, and that, without police and National Guard controls, they will do just that…in my neighborhood and in yours. It is Thomas Hobbes’ war of each against all. It reduced Charlottesville to something appallingly primitive, very nearly becoming a blood bath.
As I said, this isn’t over. The film made that clear. Those who rabbi in synagogues and in whose charge are the safety and well being of congregants and their children would do well to pay special heed. That the vicious strata of America who came to war in Charlottesville did so with no real police plan to keep the factions apart or to assert control over the streets ought to be cautionary to us who must bring pressures to bear that better contingency preparations in our communities must be contemplated and set in at the ready. To expect otherwise is to open ourselves to the banality, brutality and battles which visited this city. This is far from over. It bubbles beneath our national, social fabric and will seep out like the sewage that it is wherever it is permitted to do so.