How We Got to Here: A Charlottesville Reading List

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This weekend’s events in Charlottesville will resonate long after the crowd was dispersed, long after the cable news trucks leave, long after the school year begins—new students are scheduled to arrive on the University of Virginia campus on Friday. The confrontation — and the resulting deaths of three people, two national guard pilots who were killed in an accident, and counter-protestor Heather Heyer, who was killed in a deliberate act of domestic terrorism — is neither the beginning nor the end of an ongoing resurgence of white supremacy. What was once discussed in closed online forums is now on the streets, armed—as Virginia Governor Terry Mcauliffe described —with more firepower than the Virginia National Guard. “Emboldened” is the word that’s been used by politicians and the media to describe the relationship between white nationalists and Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “Blame” is what the word should be.

Here is our reading list of features from the past two years that trace the disturbing path of how we got to Charlottesville.

1. “How The Klan Got Its Hood” (Alison Kinney, The New Republic, January 2016) 

In this excerpt from Kinney’s excellent survey of hoods across history, she discuses the origins of the Klan’s distinctive mask, and how most member of the post-Reconstruction Klan didn’t wear hoods — they had the support of politicians and Jim Crow laws were solidly in place. It was Hollywood that designed the distinctive hood, as D.W Griffith needed a dramatic costume for his epic 1917 film The Klansman, later known as Birth of a Nation.

The complete absence of any hood, costume, or concealment presented, literally, a new face of white supremacy. Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett estimated that in the twenty-five years after the Civil War, lynchers murdered 10,000 black Americans. Starting in the 1880s, spectacle lynchings attracted crowds of up to 15,000 white participant-witnesses, who booked special excursion trains to reach lynching sites. They snatched victims’ clothing, bone fragments, and organs as souvenirs; they photographed themselves, smiling, posing with their kids beside the broken, burned bodies of their victims; they scrapbooked the photos and mailed them as postcards, confident that they’d never be held accountable for their terrorism. They didn’t wear hoods, because they didn’t need to.

2.”The Alt-Right Can’t Disown Charlottesville” (Ashley Feinberg, WIRED, August 2017)

Feinberg digs into the worlds of Reddit and 4chan to show how, despite the so-called Alt-Right’s efforts to distance themselves, this weekend’s events in Charlottesville were “a product of an environment they’ve spent years making.” Her piece is a good education in how white supremacists are organizing online.

3.”His Kampf” (Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, June 2017)

Charlottesville put a face to the new generation of white nationalists: young, upper-middle class white men in their twenties and thirties, boiling with anger. Thirty-nine-year-old Richard Spencer has turned himself into a poster-boy for this generation, and Atlantic writer Graeme Wood recounts the teenage Spenser he met in high school, at the all-male St. Mark’s School in north Dallas, and the interactions he would have with him in the years afterward.

Spencer began by complimenting my reporting for this magazine on the Islamic State. “Your articles on isis have been popular on the alt-right,” he told me.

I winced: Anti-Muslim bigots liked that I had described isis as an Islamic movement, linked to traditions within Islam. “Is that because you hate Muslims?,” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Because isis is an identity movement. Because they have ideas, and because you wrote about their ideas. Also, they are a grassroots movement. They’ve built themselves up fast, from nothing.”

I told him I had contributed to our class’s effort to disown him. “It was hurtful,” he admitted, to find himself officially reviled by our school’s community. “They should be proud to have a graduate who is changing the world.” He said that singling him out among alumni, for nothing more than political thoughtcrime, was unfair.

4. “Journey Into Pizzagate” (Alex Goldman, Reply All, December 2016)

This episode of Reply All did an impressive dive into the timeline of the Pizzagate conspiracy, but the truly terrifying discussion comes at the end of the episode as the moderator of the r/TheDonald thread on Reddit responds to Goldman’s questions about how to mend the divide between the right and left. His answer? You don’t. We won.

THE_DONALD MODERATOR: Well, in that question there’s kind of – kind of an inherent question of, “How are we gonna mend, um, these relationships?” That’s why I get you’re kind of asking, “How do we bring people together?”

And, I don’t think we need to. It’s really funny how, Trump won the presidency, the Republicans retained the House and the Congress. And now it’s, “Oh, we need to come together.” Well no, Donald Trump won the presidency because he flipped blue states that hadn’t voted for Republicans since 1988. When you flip those states and you win like that, the first agenda item is not “compromise everything you’re fighting for and seek middle ground.” It’s — there’s nothing to apologize for. That’s, that’s a very liberal way of thinking, apologizing for winning.

The American people are tired of identity politics, they are tired of being forced to toe the line with political correctness. And they don’t see the – they don’t see value in the argument that words are as damaging as actions.

5. “The Rise of the Valkyries” (Seyward Darby, Harper’s Magazine, August 2017)

There are few statistics repeated from the 2016 election as much at this: 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. On the left, it was women who led the first charge of the resistance, as the Women’s March became the global, de-facto protest the day after the Inauguration.

Women again lead the charge in Darby’s profile of Lana Lokteff, the “queen bee” of the alt right. While women were noticeably absent at the rally in Charlottesville—one observer said that the few who attended stood out—but according to Lokteff, they are a necessary group to bring over to any cause. And in fact, they are with Lokteff already: “It was women that got Trump elected,” she said. “And, I guess, to be really edgy, it was women that got Hitler elected.”

No movement can survive on men alone. As one female pundit recently wrote, the prospect of the alt-right attracting women “terrifies the left, and it should, because they know that once a threshold of female involvement is reached, there’s no going back.” The philosophical answer is more complex — as are the intellectual contortions women must perform to justify participating in a movement so hostile to their freedom.

6. “My Journey to the Center of the Alt-Right” (Luke O’Brien, HuffPost Highline, November 2016)

If this is your first encounter with the term “ethnostate,” it’s not Luke O’Brien’s. His Highline exploration into “figuring out how hate gurgles up from the nastiest recesses of the Internet” starts in a “white ethnostate” in Indiana about a year before this weekend’s horror in Charlottesville.

7. “Charlottesville and the Effort to Downplay Racism in America” (Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, August 2017)

Tolentino, a Texan alumna of the University of Virginia, gives insight into Charlottesville and how statements such as “This is not us” are “part of the reason why the KKK is back in business.”

For much of Saturday, as white men carried assault weapons and brandished symbols of catastrophic violence, the police stood by calmly; at one point, they retreated from the fray. In this respect, the spectacle succeeded in proving the ongoing reality of white supremacy in America. The message is sickening and unmistakable. Black demonstrators protesting the murder of teen-agers are met with tanks and riot gear; white demonstrators protesting the unpopularity of Nazi and Confederate ideology are met with politesse. Philando Castile, reaching for his weapons permit, could make a cop so scared that his murder is ruled legal; Richard Spencer gets pepper-sprayed in a nest of armed white supremacists and films himself saying, “I have never been this offended in my life.”

8. “How One Major Internet Company Helps Serve Up Hate on the Web” (Ken Schwencke, ProPublica, May 2017)

While we’re on the subject of how hate is grown online, read ProPublica’s investigation into San Francisco-based company Cloudflare, which provides services to neo-Nazi sites — including handing them the personal information of internet users who complain about their content.

9.”The Moneyman Behind the Alt-Right” (Aram Roston and Joel Anderson, BuzzFeed News, July 2017)

Where do racist hate-mongers get their money? From William H. Regnery II, a man who failed at basically everything he tried for the first six decades of his life. With the election of Donald Trump, Regnery started to see success in his quest to turn America into a white “ethnostate” for the first time in his life.