News 101: What Went Down in Charlottesville

On Saturday, August 12, a "Unite the Right" rally was held to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, an American Confederate general. The rally, which has been deemed one of the largest white supremacy events in American history, took place in Charlottesville, an independent city in Virginia. According to authorities, during the gathering, a 20-year-old man named James Alex Fields Jr. crashed his car into a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, who later died in the hospital. 35 people were injured at the rally. Two officers monitoring the situation from above were also killed in a helicopter crash. All in all, it was a tragic weekend for Charlottesville.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Who was behind the rally?

The gathering was organized by far-right groups in the area, which included white supremacists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and militias, as well as many Antifa (anti-fascist) groups. However, there were also many individuals who gathered at the rally to counter-protest these groups. Heather Heyer was one of them. 

Who is Robert E Lee, and what is Confederacy? 

Robert E Lee was an American general who commanded the Confederate army during the American Civil War (1861-65). Confederacy can be described as the movement to maintain slavery and white supremacy in the United States, a movement which many say should not be commemorated or celebrated in any way. 

Why is Lee's statue such a big deal, and how did it spark protest?  

Since the Civil War, many monuments and statues have been erected in his memory. However, these have gained much controversy over the years because many people view Lee as a symbol of racism and the country's history of slave-ownership. 

Charlottesville has been in the process of removing two Confederate statues, one of Lee and the other of Stonewall Jackson, who was also a Confederate general. The city has already renamed the two parks where the statues were erected. However, many feel that tearing down the statues is not justified because of all that they represent.

So what happened with President Trump?

Here's where things get even more controversial. In his initial statement on the rally, President Trump did not directly denounce white supremacists and other groups in attendance. Instead, he said "hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides" were to blame. His statement was widely criticized because of his failure to call out the groups involved, and for making it seem like the Neo-Nazis and white nationalists were at just as much fault as those protesting against them. Republicans and Democrats, as well as several world leaders, criticized the President's response to the event.

To top it all off, the President instead chose to mock the head of Merck pharmaceuticals, Ken Frazier. Frazier, the only African-American CEO of a major pharmaceuticals company, resigned from the president's American Manufacturing Council over the president's response to Charlottesville. 

Since then, the President has delivered a statement that has specifically denounced the groups involved. 

What's going to happen now?  

After President Trump's initial response to the rally, thousands of demonstrators protested in front of Trump Tower, hours before his arrival in New York City. A memorial service was held for Heather Heyer on August 16. The removal of Robert E Lee's statue is currently on hold, but many other Confederate statues have come down since then, with more cities beginning the process to removing their own memorials to Confederacy