White supremacist and neo-Nazi protestors clashed with anti-racist and anti-fascist counter demonstrators at Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, August 12. Their contrasting views about the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s statue caused the violent confrontation that resulted in the death of 32 year-old Heather Heyer and caused injuries to many more demonstrators.
President Trump made multiple contrasting, confusing statements regarding the incident when he first condemned hate without explicitly condemning white supremacy or neo-Nazism, and then responded to public criticism by specifically denouncing the hate groups. A couple days afterwards, he backtracked, reprimanding both sides equally on August 15 in a press conference. Trump further angered many Americans, including Heyer’s mother, by stating that both sides were equally responsible, which somewhat implied that racist and fascist hate groups are equal and no less wrong than anti-hate protesters.
Many La Cañada students viewed the president’s response as inadequate. Ethan Crane (12) stated, “Donald Trump handled Charlottesville disastrously. There’s no doubt about that. Even David Duke, the former leader of the KKK, and Richard Spencer, the head of the alt-right, congratulated him for his response to Charlottesville. He [Trump] drew a moral equivalency between counter-protesters and neo-Nazis who killed someone, injured 19 people, and nearly beat someone to death. There clearly is no moral equivalency there.”
On the other hand, Matthew Randolph (12) thought that “the Charlottesville issue was one that was very challenging to actually do anything about, so all Trump was really doing was just commenting on the issue. So, the real question is ‘did he comment on it accurately?’”
“Assuming that the reports of neo-Nazi and white supremacist protesters breaking into homes and committing vandalism are correct, the neo-Nazis effectively started the violence in the first night. The next day, counter protesters arrived and some of them were armed – both sides had all forms of weaponry, and that’s why he said that both sides are at fault,” Matthew said.
“Both sides brought weaponry, both sides were prepared for and even wanted violence – that’s true. But you could also say that, from a certain perspective, the counter protesters were simply there to prevent the original protesters from committing more acts of violence and vandalism. Both sides did make mistakes and want violence, yes, but are both sides at fault? I’m going to say no. If the original protesters had not committed such acts of violence and vandalism the previous night, the counter protesters would not have come as prepared for violence as they were and the fight would not have broken out to the deadly proportions as it did,” he continued.
Additionally, the president’s remarks sparked debate over whether or not hate speech is protected under the First Amendment and, in the case that it is, whether or not it should be protected by the government.
Iris Seo (10) expressed, “I think that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, but it shouldn’t be. Yelling ‘fire’ in a building isn’t protected by the First Amendment because it causes public chaos and disorder. You would get punished for saying that. Although you are entitled to your opinion, there is a limit to what you can say. I don’t know what that limit is going to be – but people should know, by common sense, when to stop.”
However, some think that the way an idea is expressed matters more than the content of the ideas themselves.
“Although their [the neo-Nazis and white supremacists] views are despicable, what really matters is how they expressed their views with violence,” Ethan explained. “That’s what made their protest so despicable. When someone dies because of violent protest, they can’t argue their position anymore. They’re forced to submit to others’ ideas. Whether that violence comes from the left or the right, I can’t tolerate that.”
Despite the tragic, confusing, and controversial issues that arose from the protests in Charlottesville, it seems that La Canada students have valuable, insightful thoughts on such matters.
Information for this article was taken from: CNN, Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC7