Del. Ken Plum: Learning a Lesson from Charlottesville

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The “Unite the Right” event that happened in Charlottesville this past weekend could have happened in any community in America, but apparently it was the discussion about removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park that led to the white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers, and hate mongers to converge on the city. To bring their message of hate from distant places to Charlottesville, where its University has a world-class law school that teaches the rule of law and where its most famous resident who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom lived, created a startling contrast.

The photograph widely circulated on social media of the Tiki torch carrying thugs marching on the lawn of the University of Virginia with the Rotunda of the University in the background heightened that contrast of the ignorance of those involved in the march of our history and the rule of law and their shouts of “Heil Trump,” “white power,” and other racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic language. They demanded their rights to assemble and speak while waving Nazi flags. They wanted their rights as white persons with no recognition of the rights of anyone who might not look like them. They wanted to use their liberties as Americans to tear at the very fabric of what makes America great.

As the President of the University of Virginia Teresa Sullivan expressed in a letter to alumni, “The University supports the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly. Acts of violence, however, are not protected by the First Amendment. Violence and bigotry are not political positions. We strongly condemn intimidating and abhorrent behavior intended to strike fear and sow division in our community.” Too bad the President of the United States did not speak so clearly about the event.

One Nazi sympathizer who seemingly could not control his hate for society as he knows it rammed the only weapon he had available, his car, into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring more than a dozen. Fortunately, none of the agitators fired the guns they were carrying, for certainly a bloodbath would have followed.

Where did these people come from? Apparently, from all over the country. It was a rally to unite right wing causes of white supremacists, alt-right and Nazi sympathizers. They apparently felt safe crawling out from the figurative rocks under which they live and parade in public with torches to spread their revolting messages of hatred. They did not just happen. When leadership at all levels of government support openly and forcefully the rule of law under which we live and there is a general understanding of our history, these people do not have many public displays of their beliefs. But when leaders from the highest levels of government give them a wink and a nod, they move out into the sunlight. They do not represent any of what makes America great. In contrast, their disgusting and vile behavior makes us appreciate the real meaning of freedom for all and should motivate us to fight against those who would seek to take our country down a road of bigotry and exclusion.

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