On May 10th of this year, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department issued an eight-page bulletin entitled “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat with Lethal Violence”. The analysis pointed to the high number of violent incidents over the last decade involving neo-Nazis, white extremists and the KKK. Anyone who pays attention to domestic terrorist statistics would know that these groups were more likely to act out than other terrorists. So, the bulletin wasn’t big news, per se. It was more like a cautionary reminder.
The Charlottesville police and city administrators, as many people have noted, did a poor job of securing the rally and made many unfortunate decisions. The biggest ones were the venue choice (cramped), having officers stand down and at a distance and, allowing counter protestors close access to the pro white rally itself. Dozens of witnesses and victims of violence lamented that both the local police and the Virginia state police did not intervene when they could have and should have. It also appeared that police did not have sufficient time to adequately prepare, both in terms of strategy, number of available police forces and equipment. Surely inadequate preparation is a justifiable reason to postpone any rally that poses the kind of obvious threat of violence as did this one.
The so called Swastika War of 1977-78 was highly controversial, and very emotionally charged. Frank Collin head of the National Socialists wanted to march his small group of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, home to a large number of Holocaust survivors. Collin and his group did rally at two venues in Chicago proper. Although he was allowed to assemble, law enforcement broke up the demonstration early in each case, to avoid escalation in the face of the counter-demonstrators. The court case went to the Supreme Court where it was decided that Collin’s First Amendment Rights extended to Skokie but by then his resolve had apparently petered out and nothing came of it.
Charlottesville allowing two groups who have it out for each other access to each other in such a way was a mistake. From a PR perspective, would it not have been more effective for the counter group to meet a week later, in a rally numbering tens of thousands not thousands to express themselves and their indignation unfettered by the likelihood of violent confrontation? Unless violence was the goal, having opposite sides meet in Charlottesville this week was like putting two sworn enemies in a ring and being surprised when they start punching each other.