This Sunday, as racist, self-described “defenders of Western values” assemble across the street from the White House, the president who brought those hate-mongers to prominence will be golfing in New Jersey.
Unable to secure a permit for a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the first anniversary of the melee instigated there last year by groups from the far right, organizer Jason Kessler decided to bring his sorry band of white supremacists to Washington, D.C.
Like the Proud Boys fight club with which he allies himself, Kessler is a Trump booster, no doubt one of “the very fine people on both sides.” You’ll recall that those words of the president’s, uttered in response to the violence that took place in the streets of Charlottesville last year, were spoken from a meeting room at the president’s New Jersey golf club.
This year (as was planned last year), among the very fine people speaking at the so-called Unite the Right rally will be David Duke, former leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—that same David Duke whose endorsement of presidential candidate Donald Trump the candidate seemed so hesitant to disavow. (Duke never got to the chance to speak at the first Unite the Right rally because the Charlottesville Police Department shut it down before it started.)
The far right is famously splintered, with alt-right leaders often dismissive of Kessler for what they see as his bungling of the Charlottesville convening last year, which resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer after she was struck by a car whose driver appeared to deliberately mow down the group with which she was marching. Dozens of people were injured; some may never recover.
The car attack by James Alex Fields Jr., a reported neo-Nazi sympathizer, sullied the image the far-right marchers sought to project of themselves as manly men there to defend a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee from removal by the politically correct liberals on the Charlottesville City Council. An action mirroring that of a terrorist group gave lie to the white supremacists’ supposedly defensive posture, and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes laid part of the blame squarely at Kessler’s feet.
It’s fair to say that the carnage in Charlottesville—as well as the media stardom of such figures as “white nationalist” Richard Spencer and the attention given Kessler—would likely not have taken place had Trump not emboldened the far right by campaigning on the racial grievances of right-wing white people, and engaging in racist rhetoric himself. On the very first day of his campaign, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists, and later in the campaign publicized false crime statistics, retweeting them from a white supremacist Twitter account.
During his presidency, his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem, or his calling individual African American celebrities “dumb” and “low-IQ,” continue to send the message—not to mention the abuse of Central American asylum-seekers in U.S. detention, who are routinely characterized as dangerous, even murderous.
Trump has so normalized racist speech that Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham held forth with a rant earlier this week about how America’s “changing demographics” due to immigration were pretty much ruining everything. David Duke loved it. Of Ingraham’s remarks, he tweeted: “One of the most important (truthful) monologues in the history of MSM.” (The Duke tweet has since been deleted, and Ingraham has disavowed Duke’s support, and tried to explain the words that have launched boycotts against her advertisers.)
And NPR this morning gave Jason Kessler quite the platform on Morning Edition to explain his ranking of the races, without effective pushback from host and interviewer Noel King.
You see, Kessler is suddenly important. And it was Trump who made him so.
This Sunday, the heart of Washington, D.C., will be unnavigable due to street closures intended to keep Kessler’s motley crew shielded from the possible thousands of counter-protesters expected to demonstrate against the white supremacist rally. With at most a few hundred compatriots converging on the District, he’s managed to marshal massive resources from the city to support his free-speech claim.
No word from the White House, normally so keen to disparage government spending, on how the president is feeling these days about such fine people as Kessler. But you can bet he’ll be careful not to alienate Kessler’s followers. After all, the midterms are upon us.