Today, President Trump claimed that there was violence on "both sides," and that alt-left and alt-right both shared blame in the incidents at Charlottesville, Virginia. Is this factually accurate? I'm not aware of any alt-left protestors being arrested, nor have seen any alt-left protesters attacking alt-right protesters.
Bottom Line Up Front
Yes, there was violence perpetrated by both AntiFa and the White Supremacists. Ben Shapiro's show the day after properly highlights the violence on each side (specific parts showing violence will be referenced below). That there was violence on one side does not dismiss or excuse the violence on the other side. That there was violence on both sides does not excuse the domestic terrorism incident perpetrated via vehicular murder.
Making it Abundantly Clear
Many are highlighting a difference in the magnitude of the violence that was perpetrated by both sides, as if to insinuate that because the member of one side committed vehicular murder, the severity of the violence by the other side is lessened. This establishes a logical fallacy. To start, consider the course of events without the pinnacle of violence: each side had actors that engaged in violent interactions with the other. There are demonstrable acts of mob tendencies from each side, where a mass of group B descended on an individual from group A. The crimes of each side are repugnant.
Then an individual drove a car through a crowd of people that opposed him, drastically escalating the level of force being used. Yes, this was heinous. Yes, it should be thoroughly dismissed as a repugnant act that has no place in civilized discourse. However, it doesn't dismiss or lessen the preceding illegality. There was wrong on each side; this was just more wrong. This was a grievous example of domestic terrorism.
Warned in Advance
As reported by Politico, the Virginia Governor and Charlottesville mayor were warned in advanced of the potential for violence at the protest, from both the white supremacists and the anarchists, representatives of the extreme of either side.
The Aug. 9 report by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis was done in coordination with local, state and federal authorities at the Virginia Fusion Center. It stated that white supremacists and anti-fascist “antifa” extremists had clashed twice before in Charlottesville, at a white nationalist rally on May 13 and a Ku Klux Klan gathering July 7. At each event, “anarchist extremists” attacked protesters who had been issued permits, leading to fights, injuries, arrests and at least two felony charges of assault and battery.
Violence in Context
In the possibility that there is an implication from Trump's statements that the violence from either side is equivocal, it is important to fully establish the context in which the violence took place. This includes describing the nature of the violence, estimating the quantity of the violence, and considering the possibility that some of the violence was performed in self defense. Prior to the in depth analysis, focus on the Charlottesville Police Chief, who openly stated in press conference following the violence that the different groups were "mutually combative."
This will be everything but the murder, covered above.
The event was scheduled to start at noon, but had to be canceled at 11.30 am due to the swelling level of violence.
The Unite the Right rally was scheduled to start at noon but it never happened. By 11:30 a.m., with demonstrators and counter-protesters fighting in the streets, Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials declared a state of emergency and later declared the rally an illegal assembly, slowly clearing the park
Members of each side in this conflict open carried firearms at this protest (A legal activity in Virginia), depicted by these self proclaimed AntiFa or these Militia Men wearing shirts with Confederate Flags. Thankfully, Governor McCaulif stated in a NPR interview that no shots were fired during the event, though there are contradictory claims.
“It could have been a lot worse today,” said Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas. “The premeditated violence is deplorable.”
Both sides came prepared for violence, wearing protective helmets, masks and carrying flags. When violence broke out, many of the flags were stripped from the wood handles and the handles were used as clubs.
Both sides brought street medics equipped with bandages and fluids for flushing eyes and skin afflicted with pepper spray.
This can be seen here, where the Alt-Right is marching with shields, helmets, and flags; in response, a fight breaks out between Antifa and the front line. Regrettably, who threw the first punch is obscured by the crowd.
At another point, the Alt-right regroup, and are commanded back into action, shields and clubs used to batter the crowd.
A New York Times Reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, tweeted:
The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding "antifa" beating white nationalists being led out of the park 2/2
This lasted up until the backlash that she was "creating an equivalency."
African American individual utilized an improvised flamethrower against a large group of Alt-Right. His story, presented by the Independent, sets the premise that he had attended the protest to heckle the Alt-Right, including claims that a gun was held to his head and a shot was fired at his feet. At a later point during the event, he was involved in an altercation where he used a spray can he found on the ground and a lighter in his pocket to hold off the crowd. This order of events (brandished firearm, discharged firearm, lunging with flag, and employment of improvised flame thrower), are disproved by a video released by the ACLU of Virginia. In this video, the order of events are depicted as:
- Crowd is moving through
- Spray starts from can directed towards faces of protestors
- People walk away from the spray or cover their mouths
- Spray is lit on fire, directed towards the protestors
- Protestor A starts waving flag towards fire
- Protestor B uses racial epithet, attempts to fire a shot: Gun Malfunction (expect no round chambered)
- Protestor B manipulates slide, chambering round, fires shot into ground before Counter Protestor using improvised Flame thrower
- Protestor B retreats.
The current dead - injured - missing values for the event are 3 - more than 36 - 0, as reported by Charlottesville Officials. This includes the tragic helicopter crash (2-0-0), the injuries from the vehicular murder (1-19-0), and individual altercations (0-more than 17-0). This does not account for people that were injured during individual altercations but did not seek medical aid, or associate their request for medical aid with the incident.
Regrettably, there isn't a fullness of understanding for that total number of violent altercations.
It is possible that some of the violence that occurred during this protest was purely self defense. Virginia defines self defense, from charges of Assault or Battery, via common law and court decisions, as:
Committing a battery with legal justification: hitting, pushing, scratching, etc. a person who placed you in “reasonable fear” of “imminent danger of bodily harm,” where your actions were “reasonably necessary to protect” yourself. An act that began as self-defense can cross the line into a separate crime of battery if you use excessive or unreasonable force in defending yourself.
From the same link, when considering that the police chief said many altercations between both groups were "mutually combative," all of those participants are wrong doers as described by SCOTUS case Rowe V. United States.
If an individual was to claim Self Defense as an affirmative defense to charges, it is important that you either didn't instigate the altercation (fighting words, overt threats, etc.) or that you've made a good faith effort to abandon the fight.
From the Patriot Act, as understood by the ACLU, our definition is:
A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act "dangerous to human life" that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and if they do not, may be regarded as international terrorism.
Driving a car through a crowd of people that were offering a counter protest to your activities fits this definition. Though it should be noted that the violence as speech from both sides, which lead to the Police force terminating the Unite the Right protest and calling for the groups to disperse, could also fit within this definition. Consider reporting from Politico detailing their activities as "domestic terror violence." This is not a media term; it is the legal definition by which the events of Charlottesville should be judged.
All sides aren't violent in a riot; Simplistically there were two sides at this fight, but that doesn't account for the idiots or peaceful folk that joined into the fight with out intentions to resort to violence. this allows for the possibility that:
There were leftist protest who were intent on peaceably protesting the Alt-Right Antics.
There were some misguided idiots from the right who were there for "free speech" reasons. Note: In today's climate, look who is standing next to you. If you're beside people that embrace white power, you're going to be associated with nazis.
Who are the Nazis?
In the context of this answer, the Nazis are the violent extremes of the Unite the Right Protest. This includes those chanting Hail Victory, performing the colloquially recognized Nazi Salute, or openly displaying White Supremacy symbolism (white pride flags). This answer rejects the implication that all of the right are Nazis.
According to the Charlottesville Chief of Police, there were "mutually engaged combatants". His statement is available for viewing here. When pressed on the question of assigning blame, he maintained his neutrality on that matter and reiterated that there were "mutually engaged combatants".
There were confrontation and violence (small skirmishes) between the 2 sides; but it was minimal (other than the car attack)
This is the only link I could find about arrests, it does not say if there were from one side or the other.
Virginia State Police said Saturday night that three people had been arrested in connection to the rally. Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tenn., was charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Va., was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery; and James M. O'Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Fla., was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, Virginia State Police said.
How about we let a relatively objective number speak?
According to Governor McAuliffe, from multiple interviews Monday, not a single "alt-right" protestor ended up dead or hospitalized from the rally.* He seemed quite proud of that.
According to news sources, 1 person died and 19 were hospitalized as a result of the violence at the rallies. That's of course not counting the two officers who died in a helicopter crash monitoring the protests.
A wag would point out here that 19 (or one) divided by zero is infinity. But even without playing statistical games like that, its pretty clear from the numbers that nearly all (if not all) of the serious violence was being carried out by the alt-right.
* - This could really use independent confirmation.
It's easy to find incidences of "right" wing violence in the left wing media. If you want to find left wing violence, you have to look in the right wing media. E.g. Breitbart reports that a female reporter for The Hill was punched in the face:
A female reporter for the Hill was allegedly punched by an “Antifa” protester in the wake of a deadly car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia Saturday as she tried to film the ensuing chaos.
And quotes her twitter feed:
Turns out the guy who punched me in the face for recording after the incident already had a warrant out for his arrest. So he's being held.
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) August 12, 2017
That was purportedly posted from the police station where she was waiting to make her report. I have yet to hear anyone in the government denounce that bit of violence.
Other reports agree that counter protesters (left wing) were deliberately inciting the protesters ("right" wing). E.g. The Times of Israel reported:
Earlier, the counter-demonstrators shouted “From the Midwest to the South, punch a Nazi in the mouth,” and “Nazi scum” at far-right attendees gathering at Emancipation Park in the city where the rally will be held.
It's worth noting that while all Nazis are white nationalists, not all white nationalists are Nazis. So when you see people refer to the protesters as Nazis, they are using a derogatory slur.
The protest was about a statue of Robert E. Lee being scheduled for removal. Lee was a Confederate general during the Civil War. He died decades before the Nazis came to be. While remembered as allying with racists during the Civil War, he was not a Nazi. He did not advocate genocide against Jews, blacks, or anyone. Some people who support him now may be Nazis.