‘Cops and Klan, Hand in Hand’: Lessons of Charlottesville

Workers World contingent arrives at Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, N.C.

Flounders was a participant in the Aug. 12 Charlottesville, Va., anti-racist mobilization.

The racist “Unite the Right” mobilization in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 exposed once again the collusion of the capitalist state, its repressive police agencies and the current mobilizing of fascist organizations in the U.S.

Across the country, hundreds of anti-racist rallies and vigils in solidarity with those resisting the ultra-right onslaught in Charlottesville have infused the anti-Trump movement with an anti-racist character.

But at the same time many politicians in Virginia and across the country have jumped to microphones and wrung their hands, decrying violence and urging “love, not hate.” These politicians have time and again provided legal and political cover for vicious neo-Nazi and ultra-right groups.

Trump, understanding his own racist base, did not play the expected presidential role of expressing condolences and urging love and compassion. He first refused to condemn the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville who boasted that they helped elect him, and then gave only a grudging disapproval after facing mass pressure.

Resistance on the ground to racism and fascism

At Emancipation Park on Aug. 12, lines of camouflaged militia members wearing body armor and helmets openly flaunted assault rifles, side arms and knives. The courts had ruled that this fascist gathering of armed thugs was protected as “free speech.”

Police stood far to the side, appearing to be completely uninvolved, as Nazi groups in fascist regalia and Klan covens carrying bats and Confederate flags made numerous forays into the crowds of determined anti-racist protesters. Through community pressure, the park had recently been renamed Emancipation Park instead of Lee Park, after Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Tear gas, pepper spray and smoke bombs were fired at the anti-racist militants, along with bottles and rocks. The anti-racist forces linked arms, stood their ground and fought back. Each projectile tossed their way was thrown back, along with some extras.

The night before, police had casually watched as hundreds of heavily armed neo-Nazi and racist groups, from League of the South to Identity Evropa and assorted dregs, marched with torches to occupy the University of Virginia. The corporate media treated it as a glorious spectacle.

The corporate media had also given wide publicity to the claim that thousands of racists were mobilizing to attend. Every possible effort was made to frighten anti-racist forces from coming to Charlottesville to stand up to the ultra-right militias.

In the end, the white supremacist turnout was only several hundred, while thousands of multinational resisters came to confront organized terror.

The police, by helicopter, video cameras and a command post on the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo bank, overlooked the scene. The police role was to watch fascist action unfurl, while claiming neutrality.

Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, compared the police role to “watching fights at a hockey game.” Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the Unite the Right rally, said his forces had “networked with law enforcement officials” for months.

About 1,500 police from various local, state and national police agencies were brought into Charlottesville — but not to keep the fascists from acting. When Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a “state of emergency” and riot police moved in, they moved first against the anti-racist protesters.

The State, the Klan and guns

Groups similar to the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, right-wing militias and other white supremacists exist in all capitalist countries. In times of capitalist stability, they are portrayed as ugly but irrelevant fringe groups.

In the U.S. big business media, these racist forces are put forward as tolerated because of “First Amendment” guarantees of “free speech.” Workers and oppressed people are told that protecting the rights of such groups ultimately means the basic protection of everyone’s rights.

Police and prison guard membership in Klan and other racist organizations is tolerated with a wink and a nod in hundreds of repressive state agencies involved in upholding “law and order” across the U.S.

While militant and armed organizations of oppressed people, such as the Black Panther Party and other self-defense groups, were systematically shot, jailed and viciously repressed, racist white supremacist organizations are quietly allowed to proliferate.

While a Black child such as Tamir Rice can be shot down by cops for holding a toy gun, one state after another has passed “open carry” laws protecting the right to carry assault rifles. Clearly such “rights” exist only for certain white people, and not at all for people of color, as witnessed by the police killing in Minneapolis of African-American Philando Castile, who had a license to carry his gun.

Today 45 states have laws permitting open-carry guns in public places. But the open carrying of weapons, including assault rifles, is selectively enforced, based on race and class.

In a capitalist society, the racist, heavily armed police determine at every minute who has rights. On average cops kill one Black person every day in the U.S.

It may be legal for right-wing vigilantes to carry weapons. But if Black Lives Matter forces mobilized with weapons for a march with torches onto a university campus, would police have just watched?

If workers — Black, Latinx, white — went to a contract negotiation with their boss, heavy weapons in hand, or if a group of tenants armed with assault rifles met with their landlord, would police just stand down?

Tear down the racist statues

In a concerted assault on systemic racism and state terror, Black communities and anti-racist forces, in the South in particular, are organizing to take down monuments celebrating generals and leaders of the Confederacy during the U.S Civil War. Most of the racist statues were erected by white town councils from the 1890s to 1920s to concretize the violent overturn of Black Reconstruction following the Civil War.

The Charlottesville community’s victory in removing the name of slaveowner Robert E. Lee from Emanicipation Park was the pretext for the neo-Nazi and KKK occupation there. But antifa forces, Black Lives Matter, religious and pacifist currents courageously mobilized in the thousands and united in the streets.

Workers World Party had a well-organized and bold contingent from three cities and friends from other areas in the region. Their organized street tactics helped give cohesion to the mobilization. The lead WWP banner declared: “Make racists afraid again! Smash white supremacy!”

The thousands far outnumbered the racists, and their resistance gave determined pushback and, ultimately, forced the white supremacists to disperse.

Every minute in Charlottesville reaffirmed that no police or any agency of the state can ever be relied on to protect the oppressed or to fight the right-wing militias. These forces, both state and vigilante, operate together to protect property instead of people, enforce racist norms, terrorize the oppressed and strive to disarm resistance.

In times of capitalist crisis these gangs of armed thugs appear to suddenly surge as an organized force of terror. At such times the real relations between these extreme racist organizations and state-organized repressive organizations come into full view.

A class understanding of the historic role of the police and right-wing racist forces can contribute to deeper political understanding and stronger unity as we fight against the enemies of the poor and oppressed. This leads to the conclusion that workers and oppressed people must form their own organizations of self-defense and struggle, independent from the police and other organs of capitalist state repression.

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