To be perfectly honest, I knew very little about the events in Charlottesville until well after they happened. I was in a vacuum of sorts because I was tuned out from the world, enjoying family and festivities surrounding my wife’s attaining her bachelor’s degree in this stage of her life as a University of Phoenix graduate. So while the family watched her and hundreds of her fellows walk onstage to accept their degrees at the newly-rechristened Capital One Center in Washington, D.C., a few dozen miles to the southwest a chaotic scene was unfolding. As I have since learned, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old white woman who was a paralegal from the city, was killed when she was struck by a car reportedly driven by a 20-year-old white Ohio man, James Alex Fields, Jr. While Fields lives in my old stomping grounds (Maumee, Ohio is a suburb of Toledo) he grew up in Kentucky and is supposedly an “alt-right” Trump supporter.
You’ll notice I linked to the CNN story, but through the evening Saturday and into Sunday afternoon there were all sorts of different reports and rumors on what happened: different identities on the car driver and registration, people describing how the original protesters (dubbed “Unite the Right”) had their permit pulled, then restored, then pulled again while the counter-protesters never got a permit, a tale alleging the Unite the Right group was set up by the city for a beatdown by the “Antifa” and “Black Lives Matter” groups by ordering them to leave the park a certain way through their counter-protest, and so on and so forth. Obviously the Left blames the Right and the Right counters that the Left is really at fault.
But my question goes all the way back to the root of the problem. In the last several years, the city of Charlottesville – which is home of the University of Virginia – has become what is described as “progressive.” At one time it had parks named after Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, but no more. This latest controversy was about removing the statue of Robert E. Lee that graces what used to be called Lee Park; a statue put up decades after Lee’s death in 1870. (Unlike most other conflicts, in our War Between the States neither the leader of the opposition army nor government was executed for treason – Lee lived until a stroke and subsequent illness felled him five years later, while Confederate president Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for a few years but out of prison well before his death in 1889.) In his postwar days, Lee was best remembered for restoring what became known as Washington and Lee University while his former estate became Arlington National Cemetery. (In no small bit of irony, our family spent a good part of Saturday afternoon there after the graduation ceremony and our lunch.)
It’s also true that Lee turned down the opportunity to lead part of the Union forces as a colonel (his rank at the time the conflict began) because he felt more loyal to his home state of Virginia, which chose to join the Confederacy – this despite Lee’s personal opposition to secession.
So then we come to the reason people were in Charlottesville to protest. The “Unite the Right” had one very valid point in that there’s no good reason to remove this piece of history from its longtime place. If anything, more context should be added: why was Lee deemed important enough at the time to be so honored and what have we learned about him since? (To that end, three states still celebrate his January 19 birthday as a legal holiday; oddly enough, every few years it falls on the date we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. As another example, there is also federal law that equates Confederate veterans with Union veterans when it comes to grave markers.) In short, taking an honest look at Lee’s life and legacy would be more complex than simply boiling it down to the four years he spent leading a Confederate army, but most people don’t want to do that because it doesn’t suit their political purposes.
We then loop back to the events in Charlottesville. What we know is that there is a young man who’s being portrayed as one whose head is full of racist, neo-Nazi tripe and he stands accused of maiming innocent bystanders to the extent that one has died and several others were left in critical condition. We also know that this rally necessitated additional police coverage, and a police helicopter carrying two Virginia State Police officers crashed on Saturday, killing both men on board. All four of these lives were changed irrevocably and senselessly for no good reason, over an inanimate object.
And that same controversy roils locally on a smaller scale over another Civil War figure. Brigadier General John Henry Winder was a Union officer in the Mexican War but later served as the administrator of all the Confederate military prisons until his death just weeks before the Confederate States of America ceased to exist. Since he was born in what would become Wicomico County after his death, and the state needed something to commemorate the war with here after 100 years, we got a plaque that originally sat by where the Evolution brewery is now but moved to its present location around 1983. For 33 years this was no problem but then Donald Trump was elected and suddenly it became so. Oops, did I say that?
Why, yes I did. And despite the fact I didn’t vote for the guy and he’s generally the epitome of politically tone-deaf, in this case he’s getting a really raw deal. Trump puts out a statement on Saturday that may have seemed bland on the surface but was immediately panned for noting the “hatred, bigotry, and violence” came from “many sides.” So a couple days later he reiterated his disapproval and was regaled with a press reaction sort of like this: (courtesy of the Patriot Post)
So when the President went back to the more original tone today you had to know the media would crucify him once again, and again they miss the point. It took two sides to tango down in Charlottesville, and note that several previous events (such as the tiki torch rally the night before) had gone off without the violence. It was only when the BLM and Antifa side showed up that the clashes occurred. As for using a car as a deadly weapon, James Fields will have his day in court – if he survives that long. I’m sure the more conspiratorial among us are already trying to figure out just how their bogeyman du jour (George Soros, the Clintons, the Rothschilds, et. al.) will make his death look like a suicide. We know Fields will be in jail until then because he was denied bail.
For those of you who partake in such things, maybe the best answer to all this is to look to the Almighty in prayer. Pray for the families of Heather Heyer, and VSP troopers Berke Bates and Jay Cullen, who surely need comfort and strength through this difficult time of loss. Pray that this becomes a time of reflection and repentance for James Fields, to drive out the wickedness and hatred in his heart and turn his life in the right direction, and that others see this result and step back from the brink before it’s too late.
And pray for a nation that’s being torn asunder more each day by forces wishing to divide it. Pray that we once again remember that we are a nation that God blessed, and in return we should be grateful for our abundance. We are all part of His creation, so perhaps it’s time to remember Luke 6:31.