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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After the automotive attack in New York City on Oct. 31, Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the perpetrator.

“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the federal system …” he tweeted about the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov. “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

It’s hard not to compare this response to his “both sides” response to the automotive terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va. Trump has built his political career on demonizing Islam, but neither he nor his staff have condemned white nationalist terrorist organizations—whose ideology they continue to openly espouse.

When Trump was asked whether or not James Alex Fields—who on Aug. 12 drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer and seriously injuring 12 others—was a terrorist, he dissembled. “And there is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer, and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing."

By calling Fields a murderer, rather than a terrorist, Trump is able to maintain the myth that white-supremacist terrorists are bad actors in a field of otherwise “fine people.”

Trump regularly mentions “our heritage” when he talks about the Confederate monuments that the Nazis descended on Charlottesville to defend. And his chief of staff, John Kelly, once laughably called “the adult in the room,” recently said that Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state,” and that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

Our racist nation finds it easy to condemn all Muslims as terrorists. And, since the “anarchist bombings” of the 19th century, we’ve also easily associated the left with terrorism. At press time, a “We the People” petition to “formally recognize Antifa as a terrorist organization” had 362,010 signatures. The entire right-wing mediasphere has been flipping out over an imagined “November 4” conspiracy where Antifa was supposed to go door to door killing white people and Christians. 

And yet, despite mounting evidence of conspiracy and murderous intent, there have been virtually no calls to declare Vanguard America, or related groups, terrorist organizations.

On Aug. 12, James Alex Fields was photographed wearing the uniform and carrying the shield of Vanguard America. The first thing I saw when I got to Charlottesville was Vanguard America members chanting: “You can’t run; you can’t hide; you get helicopter rides!” at leftist protesters, whom they then attacked with sticks. The chant was a reference to Augusto Pinochet’s right-wing death squads. Some press outlets have been woefully gullible at allowing these organizations to call such threats jokes—even when they are accompanied by actual violence.

Thanks to a series of chats on a gaming app uncovered by the media collective Unicorn Riot, we know that people involved in planning the rallies also “joked” about running people over with their cars. Then Fields followed through, committing murder.

Others involved in Vanguard America have shown that the organization as a whole, and not just Fields, had terrorist intent. William Fears, who spent much of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville trying to stab people with a flag pole, has identified himself as a member of Vanguard America. He; his brother Colton; and another man named Tyler Tenbrink were in Gainesville, Fla., following the flop of a Nazi rally led by Richard Spencer. They allegedly pulled their Jeep up to a group of anti-fascist protesters and began yelling, “Heil Hitler.” Someone in the group hit their Jeep with a baton. The three men then jumped out of their Jeep, and the Fears brothers reportedly yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill you,” and, “Shoot them!” as Tenbrink got out of the car with a gun and fired it at the people.

“Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back,” Fears had told the Gainesville Sun earlier that day. “We want to show our teeth a little bit, because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”

Then he justified the Charlottesville terrorist attack carried out by James Alex Fields as self-defense.

“They threw the first blow,” he said. “I look at it as self-defense whether he just was radicalized and said, ‘You know, I’m just going to mow these people down,’ or whether he was in fear for his life—but they threw the first blow, so I’m going to take his side.”

Fears, who says he was previously radicalized in prison, was arrested along with his brother and Tenbrink and charged with attempted murder.

So here we have a situation in which a member of Vanguard America justifies a murder committed by another member of the same group hours before allegedly attempting to commit another murder—both actions seemingly based on political ideology. What else do we need to treat Vanguard America like we do window-breaking leftists wearing black?

Nearly 200 people are facing conspiracy charges based on the clothes they wore at Donald Trump’s inauguration. But because the white supremacists dress like Donald Trump playing golf—the event page for the “White Lives Matter” rally in Tennessee during the last weekend in October noted that Vanguard America and other groups “will be wearing white polo shirts and khakis”—many Americans can still imagine that some of them are “fine people.”

After I wrote the original version of this story went to press, the terrorist attack on a church in Texas took place, with 26 people killed. The perpetrator was white—and the president has not yet called him a terrorist or suggested Guantanamo.

If suspects wear all-black and look like punks, then they are all responsible for any crime committed by someone who looks like them, as the arrest of 200 people on Inauguration Day shows. If suspects have brown skin, then Trump, Kelly, Vanguard America and the rest of the alt-right see them as terrorists, even in the absence of an actual crime. This idea of collective, preemptive guilt is enshrined in extreme vetting. But polo-wearing white guys are never judged as part of a group—even when they wear its uniforms or carry its shields. That’s how white supremacy works.

Baynard Woods is a reporter at the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a joint project of alternative newspapers across the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Twitter @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

Two middle-aged men, one black and one white, were walking up a street in downtown Charlottesville, Va., yelling at each other. It was a moment of relative normalcy in a day otherwise defined by mayhem.

Both men use the phrase “born and bred” to define their relationship to the smallish Southern college town, nestled in the hills in the politically contested state of Virginia.

The white man, Ed Knight, was wearing a Confederate flag bandana around his head.

“You, with that stupid Confederate flag, talking about history,” the black man, George Steppe, said. “You don’t know nothing about no history. Only thing you know is hate.”

“This is our history, and it should not be destroyed,” Knight said about the statue of Robert E. Lee in the park—which the Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove—where an alt-right Unite the Right rally had been scheduled.

Knight supported the rally that brought hundreds of armed racists and fascists to his home city on Saturday, Aug. 12. It also brought hundreds of anti-fascists—some of them armed with sticks and shields as well—pledging to defend the city from right-wing terror. Now, after hours of bloody battle during which they remained largely passive, riot police were breaking things up, pushing Steppe back, inching forward behind their shields. Knight walked alongside with a sign: “Make C-Ville Great Again.”

The chaos started the night before, as the Nazis and other racists gathered for the 21st-century version of a Klan rally—a Klanclave of khaki and tiki torches. At one point, a group of white supremacists surrounded a group of counter-protesters, throwing punches and torches.

Within minutes of arriving in town on Saturday morning, we saw the first of many fights. White supremacists had helmets—some German, World War II-era—as well as white polos, sticks, an assortment of flags and homemade shields marked with the insignia of the racist group Vanguard America. They chanted at a smaller crowd of counter-protesters.

“You can’t run; you can’t hide; you get helicopter rides,” they said, a reference to far-right governments in Argentina and Chile in the ’70s and ’80s that threw leftists from helicopters to “disappear” them.

The racists began to march forward, and the anti-racists tried to block them. After a swirl of violence and swinging sticks, three of the counter-protesters were left with bloody faces—the racists seemed to target women’s faces with their sticks—and the racists, who also took some heavy blows, ran away as the cops rolled in and began setting up a barricade.

Over the next several hours, this same pattern continued to play out: Another fight broke out every few minutes as a new faction of the right marched in its crazed armor toward the park.

The park was filled with every variety of racist you can imagine, from the Nazi biker to the fashy computer programmer. They were almost exclusively white and male. The anti-fascist activists who packed the streets were predominantly white as well, but there were far more women and people of color opposing the Nazis. The two opposing armies seemed to be of roughly equal size. The fights were swift, chaotic and brutal.

The two sides launched bottles and tear-gas canisters back and forth as state troopers stood and watched, slack-jawed. At one point, as a few bottles whizzed by him in quick succession, a trooper perked up enough to pull out his phone and record some of the mayhem.

When the police declared the assembly illegal before it even began and told everyone to leave, it forced these groups together. Right-wing militia types wielding assault rifles and wearing “Make America Great Again” patches on paramilitary uniforms roamed through the crowd. Guys with pistols seemed to keep their hands on them, ready to draw at any moment. It felt like something horrible would happen.

Then, as the various groups became separated, it seemed like the rumble was largely over.

“I’m glad no serious gunshots rang out. I was threatened with a gun, though. Police wasn’t around when a guy pulled up his gun up on me,” Steppe said, around 12:30 p.m.

Steppe and Knight both seemed to think that it was the end of the day. The racists, who had not been able to hold their rally, were trying to regroup at another park a little farther from downtown. Eventually, as a state of emergency was declared, most of them decided to leave. Some of them even suggested hiding in the woods.

Antifa—an anti-fascist group—burned right-wing flags in a park and then marched through the city; two groups converged on Water Street around 1:35 p.m. It felt triumphant. They had driven the racists out of town—at least those who were from out of town.

The feeling would not last. About five minutes later, it sounded like a bomb exploded as a muscle car—which police say was driven by alt-right member James Alex Fields—sped down the street and plowed through the march and into other cars. Fields then threw the weaponized car into reverse, fleeing from the scene of terror.

Bodies were strewn through the road. Street medics, marked by red tape, delivered first aid while waiting on ambulances to arrive. Activists held Antifa banners to block camera views of the injured.

The other alt-righters were nowhere to be found.

The same day, Trump meandered through a speech in New Jersey in which he condemned violence on "many sides." He did not use the words “white supremacy” or “terrorism.” He did not say the name of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in the terror attack. He did not offer support to the 19 others who were hospitalized or prayers for those who were still in critical condition.

Fields, who was photographed earlier in the day with the same Vanguard America shield we saw when we first arrived in town, was later arrested and charged with murder.

I won’t to pretend to know what this all means for our country. The racism is not new. The argument Steppe and Knight were having in their hometown could have happened any time within the last 50 years. But the way the battle over white supremacy was being waged around them was new. Charlottesville was not ready for it. None of us are.

When that gray car slammed into those people, it shattered a part of America, or at least the illusion of it. I don’t know what that means yet, because it shattered something in me, too.

Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com. Below: Counter-protesters just moments before police say James Alex Fields drove his car through the crowd.

Published in National/International