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.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 14:13
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    It should be noted that there's "violence on both sides" the moment a member of each side has stepped on an insect. The phrase is meaningless and designed to convince the audience to ignore magnitudes. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 17:46
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    @R.. That's just being pedantic. Clearly the question is aimed at ascertaining whether there is true meaning behind the use of the phrase in this instance. If the facts are that one side merely stepped on an insect, then a reasonable answer will be that no, there was not violence on both sides.
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 18:05
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    See this related question on Skeptics
    – Mawg
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 8:40

5 Answers 5


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.

Vehicular Murder

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.

Nature of

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.

Skirmish weapons were also on hand, as reported by the Daily Progress (pay wall), and referenced by the New York Mag:

“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.

One of the counter protestors, Jacob L. Smith, punched a Reporter Taylor Lorenz from The Hill for taping the events.

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.

Self Defense

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.

Domestic Terrorism

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.

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 3:56
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    "including claims that a gun was held to his head and a shot was fired at his feet." The ACLU released video of the incident. See my answer here: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/39245/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 19:56
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    @DavePhD ACLU video conflicts with the story as reported in the Independent. Addressed. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:38
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    @EssKay The Independent is misreporting the information originally released by Politico, though even in their article It described some of their activities as "domestic terrorist violence". Anti-Fa hasn't not yet been labeled an organization of domestic terrorists. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:46
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    @Drunk Thanks for pointing it out. I noticed New Jersey Office of Homeland Security has them officially Classified as Anarchists Extremists njhomelandsecurity.gov/analysis/anarchist-extremists-antifa If I'm not mistaken, that is a terrorist classification. Its still interesting that the papers, and DHS still all label them as a 'antifascist' or human rights or whatever group, instead of their true name, Communists
    – Ess Kay
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:22

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".

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    But what exactly did it mean? Who attacked first? Who hit more violently? Who wanted to hurt more? It's possible to be engaged in mutual combat and still only defending yourself from an attack of someone else. I like that you dug out the source but alone it doesn't give a very complete picture. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 7:53
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    @Trilarion unless it is very one-sided, in these cases it is very difficult to pinpoint responsabilities... some protesters want to pass through some place, meet other protesters, there is a verbal confrontation, someone begins pushing, things escalate. And that is in the case that there was a single point of conflict, the most usual would be several small fights that appear and disappear quickly.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 8:05
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    @Trilarion The issue here is that only one of these actions is actually a terrorist attack. Yet despite it being clearly the responsability of a well defined individual from one of the sides and despite it being by far the worst action of the day, Trump refused to condemn it explicitly because it was bad publicity for white supremacists, and Trump's campaign has been always courting them.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 8:07
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    @SJuan76 Then this should be an answer (that it's hard to pinpoint who is actually responsible for the minor fights). The answer from Max goes into that direction. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 8:26
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    @Trilarion - Also, the police aren't exactly neutral parties in this at this point. There's been a lot of criticism thrown at them for not engaging to protect the population from the armed Nazis, and any uncorroborated statement they make about what went on has to be viewed in light of that. Far better to rely on more neutral sources. eg: Who got killed or ended up in the hospital (according to the Governor, who seemed proud of it, not a single Nazi out of the 1 death and 19 injured.)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 18:32

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.

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    Or they were better at violence, or less inclined to seek treatment. Outcomes and attempts are not certain to be similar.
    – user9389
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 18:52
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    @notstoreboughtdirt - If you are that much "better at violence" than the other side, then I'm failing to see much difference between attacking them and attacking an unarmed opponent.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 19:13
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    Remove the damage from the pinnacle event, 1 dead and 19 injured, and there are still 17+ injuries not accounted for. Were none of them alt-right? Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 20:07
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    @DrunkCynic - That's what I heard McCaulife report in interviews twice (once on NPR and once on Pod Save the People). Seemed a really odd thing to be proud of too. However, he's a politician with skin in the game, so I'd like a slightly more reliable source to post. Seems like it wouldn't be too hard to come up with.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 20:23
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    This is the only sensical answer here. Those arguing the "both sides" lunacy by, among other things, pointing to the Berkeley incident or some such other nonsense must also equate today's Islamic terrorism with Christians due to the Christians' actions during the Crusades.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 5:59

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.

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    -1 for implying there's only left and right wing media. And it's semantic nitpicking trying to point out that "they're not all Nasis..." They were all "Unite The Right" which is all white supremacists and had no issues associating with Nazis.
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 3:31
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    It might be easier to find reports of left protests being violent from sources on the right and vise versa but your statement of "only place" is false. Two answers that got votes up mention police reports. Also, in today's video age, I'll bet there's lots of video evidence of what really happened, but remember that videos can be edited and certain actions cut out - so grain of salt when you view, but you absolutely do NOT need to go to Breitbart to see the evidence. Breitbart is a terrible source. Entirely one-sided.
    – userLTK
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:04
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    Can you add more detail or edit your quote from Breitbart/The Hill's reporter? I'm not seeing anything in it that suggests the person who punched her was of any particular affiliation. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 15:02
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    “It's worth noting that while all Nazis are white nationalists, not all white nationalists are Nazis.” Well, maybe then this “Unite the Right” rally was designed to allow these fine folks to “hash things out” and get on the same page as far as their points of view on hates and violence goes. Maybe they should have just had a Google Hangout conference and saved everyone all of the headaches. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 4:39

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