- Thomson Reuters
White supremacists and white nationalists are casting themselves as police victims in the wake of the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, accusing law enforcement of doing nothing to protect them from anti-fascist counterprotesters.
“They refused to police areas that should have been policed,” white nationalist Richard Spencer, who is credited with founding the “alt-right” movement, told reporters from his home on Monday.
“I have never felt like the government or the police are against me,” Spencer said. “I always believe that if I do something wrong, I’ll be punished, but if I’m in the right, they are going to protect me. There’s never been a situation in my life where I’ve questioned that – until Saturday.”
Spencer was more equivocal, however, when asked whether he had new sympathy for Black Lives Matter activists who say they are profiled and subject to rampant police brutality.
“There might be a problem among the right of too much of a knee-jerk ‘We back the boys in blue,’ ‘blue lives matter’ type thing,” Spencer said, referring to pro-police movements. “We probably should be more skeptical.”
But he said that while it was one thing to say that the Charlottesville police “behaved in a totally reckless manner” last weekend, it was another thing to suggest that there is “a nationwide institutional manhunt among police against black people.”
Three people died amid the protests. A 32-year-old counterprotester was struck by a car, and two state police officers who were monitoring the riots were killed when their helicopter crashed.
Spencer’s condemnations of the police echoed those of Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and has been tweeting relentlessly about what he characterizes as a negligent police response.
“Cops were given stand-down orders to allow violence to shut down rally,” Kessler wrote.
Tim Gionet, the alt-right white nationalist better known as Baked Alaska, retweeted several of Spencer’s complaints about how the police had “failed.”
The far-right media outlet Breitbart News seized on a ProPublica report that said the Virginia State Police and National Guard troops “watched passively for hours as self-proclaimed Nazis engaged in street battles with counter-protesters.” Breitbart emphasized ProPublica as being left-leaning.
Kessler also retweeted several statements from the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which wrote on Monday that Charlottesville’s policing over the weekend “was not effective in preventing violence.”
To be sure, the Charlottesville police response has been roundly criticized on both sides.
On the right, the police’s “wait-and-see” approach was perceived as a conspiracy: Cops allowed violence to break out so they would have an excuse to shut down the rally. That claim was bolstered by Virginia’s ACLU chapter, which tweeted that the police stood “passively by, seemingly waiting for violence to take place, so that they’d have grounds to declare ‘unlawful assembly.'”
At the same time, those on the left viewed the laissez-faire response as an example of the police’s willingness to treat far-right extremists with kid gloves.
“Police in Charlottesville had the same military equipment we saw in Baltimore and Ferguson,” MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid wrote. “They just chose not to use them.”
“White supremacists actually pushed the police line in Charlottesville & the police just stood there,” Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson tweeted.
Chief Al Thomas of the Charlottesville Police Department on Monday said it was “simply not true” that officers had been told to stand down. But he acknowledged that the police force was “spread thin once the crowds dispersed” and that he had “regrets” about the way the protests were handled.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia also acknowledged that the police were reluctant to engage – but only because they were largely outgunned by far-right militias.
“It’s easy to criticize, but I can tell you this: Eighty percent of the people here had semiautomatic weapons,” McAuliffe told The New York Times on Sunday.
“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army … I was just talking to the State Police upstairs; [the militia members] had better equipment than our State Police had,” McAuliffe said. “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”