Others are doubtful, but I think it’s a good thing that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the vehicular attack by James Alex Fields, Jr. on a crowd of protesters at the Charlottesville rally on 12 August.
For now, it seems that the scope of the investigation is fairly narrow, relating to whether there was organized planning for the attack and if Fields, a 20-year-old from Ohio, had help from others. DOJ is looking into it as a potential hate crime under civil-rights law, which would be chargeable.
The possibility that more planners than Fields were involved would also suggest a feature of domestic terrorism. In that regard, as Andrew McCarthy pointed out on Tuesday, there is no federal statute under which to bring criminal charges against Fields. But on the chance that this was an organized attack, FBI investigators could still identify and probe the planners, and determine if there is more to uncover that would help develop knowledge of extremist organizations, and prevent other incidents.
My gut tells me that Fields – who reportedly was diagnosed as a child with schizophrenia – probably acted alone, and perhaps on impulse. (Schizophrenia, I note, wouldn’t necessarily be a mental-disease defense. Fields might be a schizophrenic needing medication, but that wouldn’t automatically make him unable to distinguish right from wrong.)
But the questions raised legitimately bear looking into. Virginia has arraigned Fields on a count of second-degree murder for the killing of Heather Heyer, along with three counts of malicious wounding, and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.. However, the evidence-gathering needed for the state to convict him might or might not pursue the network connections a federal probe could discover (if they exist).
The first-order concerns for the DOJ are enough to make an investigation worthwhile. But there’s another civil-rights issue that bears investigation, in my view, and I am frankly doubtful that either the state or local authorities can be trusted to inquire into it fairly. That issue is the behavior of law enforcement during the dueling protests on Saturday morning.
We can’t know right now if the feds will take this one on. But at least they’ve started an investigation in which the evidence may lead them to do so.
Inadequate police intervention
We can legitimately wonder whether Fields’ appalling vehicular attack could have been prevented altogether, if the police had been patrolling – and controlling access to – the streets around the renamed “Emancipation Park.” By all accounts, they were not. Yet the left-wing counter-protesters were roaming those streets, many armed with bats and various homemade weapons, during the period after the dispersal order was issued for the permitted protest of the white supremacists.
Eyewitnesses from both political sides are agreed on a couple of important points. One is that, at the time the dispersal order was given (between 11:30 and noon on Saturday), the law enforcement presence was concentrated on the north side of the park, north of the two barricaded “pens” where the white supremacist protesters were required to be.
The other is that the counter-protesters, who were present without a permit, were allowed to roam freely around the park perimeter and on the streets fanning out from it. The police made no effort to control access to those streets, or intervene in whatever was happening on them. Reportedly, the police were not present on those streets at all.
Eyewitnesses also say that when the white supremacists were told to disperse, the police made it impossible for them to leave the park by exiting to the north. The white supremacists were herded out of the park to the south. The streets south, east, and west of the park were filled with counter-protesters (especially Market Street to the south), but none of them had a police presence.
The point for this post is the lack of police presence. Given that there was reportedly a force of 1,000 assembled in Charlottesville, including the Virginia State Police and the National Guard, it’s hard to believe there weren’t enough officers on-hand to enforce a pedestrian traffic scheme and control the streets well enough to separate the protesters when the dispersal order was given.
Nor is it a stretch to imagine that the vehicular attack could have been prevented entirely with such a scheme. It was because the counter-protesters were left to go wherever they wanted on the streets around the park, with no police controls in place, that James Fields was able to get at them with his Dodge Challenger.
What happened? Why weren’t the police controlling the vehicle traffic and the exit paths for the protesters?
The concern that this lack of precautions was deliberate is an obvious one. It has occurred to many people already; aside from the awful killing of Heather Heyer, observers point out that the situation allowed numerous fights to break out between the protest factions.
Since this mimics similar hands-off patterns seen during recent protests in other cities (see the links here on Berkeley, San Jose, Portland, and Seattle), where highly organized radical-left protesters were also involved, the suspicion must arise that similar local political dynamics are in play. In the West coast cities, mayors and city councils with strong left-wing associations were behind the police “stand downs.” It is legitimate to ask whether the same was the case in Charlottesville this past weekend.
There are circumstantial factors that increase the likelihood of that. There are also specific connections; but we’ll take the circumstantial factors first.
Immoderate-left Democratic city council – check
One is that the mayor of Charlottesville, Democrat Michael Signer, gained notoriety earlier this year when he proclaimed that Charlottesville would be the “capital of the Resistance” against Donald Trump. In January 2017, he made a dramatic announcement that Charlottesville would be a sanctuary city (although he quietly dropped that plan only days later).
Signer also labors to keep Charlottesville in the forefront of green-energy activism (including Obama’s crony gravy-train; see American Thinker link below) and issues like loosening voting regulations. Basically, he checks most of the blocks for fealty to the community-organizing, Alinsky-socialist politics in which Obama had his roots.
Signer’s city council has been at odds with local activist Jason Kessler for months over the issue of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville – a point that has been thoroughly hashed out in many blog treatments now. This won’t be news to alert readers. Nor will the hostility against Kessler in the council chamber over the exposure of embarrassing (racist, sexist) tweets from several years ago by Democratic Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, and Kessler’s recall campaign against Bellamy.
Kessler, the chief organizer of the rally on 12 August, has not endeared himself to the city authorities. After a torchlight protest in May against renaming Lee Park, led by white supremacist Richard Spencer, counter-protesters held a candlelight vigil at which Kessler was arrested as a – well, counter-counter-protester, I guess. (He didn’t hit anyone; he failed to put down his bullhorn and stop speaking when the police ordered him to.)
Alongside this history is that of a KKK rally in July. The event on 8 July, at which the left-wing counter-protesters reported they vastly outnumbered the KKK group, was heavily policed – even though the law enforcement presence was only one tenth of that reportedly assembled for 12 August. With 100 officers on scene, and over 1,000 combined demonstrators, the police were able control the event and make 22 arrests.
If this is the first time you’re hearing all that, it may occur to you to wonder why (a) you didn’t hear about it before, and (b) the police behaved so differently on 12 August.
The protest groups themselves – the far-left groups and the pro-Confederate and white supremacist groups – were just as energized in the earlier events, and those protests meant just as much to Charlottesville. It does seem to suggest a particular reason why the police backed off last weekend, and why the torchlight Klan-‘n’-Nazis vigil on Friday – not the first one this year – was given so much national coverage this time.
Meanwhile, it’s important to note another council member, Democrat Kristin Szakos, who shares the Obama-left perspective of Mayor Signer and Vice Mayor Bellamy. (Interestingly, those three members of the city government united in endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam earlier this year, becoming some of his first backers. Obama will reportedly reenter the political spotlight by campaigning for Northam this fall, before Virginia’s November election. The other Charlottesville figure who joined the three city officials in endorsing Northam: Sheriff James E. Brown III.)
Kristin Szakos was a local campaign organizer for Obama in 2008, and was elected in Charlottesville herself in 2009. Notably, in 2013, after she’d held her council seat for a few years, a puff-piece squib in a local media outlet recorded her as having a very particular “pet peeve”: Civil War monuments.
Szakos has been on the warpath to rid Charlottesville of its Confederate monuments for a long time. There’s more to her story, but we’ll look at that below.
Same radical-left groups as in other Democrat-led “police stand-down” cities – check
Another significant circumstantial factor is the network of national connections to the radical-left counter-protesters who’ve kept showing up in Charlottesville this year.
One key point at the outset is how friendly Charlottesville has been to radical leftists, as opposed to others who want to mount public protests. A local watchdog reported in 2012 that Occupy Charlottesville had been allowed to operate for 45 days without paying any mandated fees or carrying insurance – whereas a religious-freedom group seeking to demonstrate for a single hour had to pony up hundreds of dollars for fees and insurance. (See here as well. In a related development, it appears that Mayor Signer held the rally for his own “Capital of the Resistance” announcement in January without obtaining a permit, or paying the mandated fees.)
Many of the same people and groups have kept turning out for the protest events in 2017. Of particular interest this past weekend, in addition to Antifa and BLM, is the group “Refuse Fascism.” Refuse Fascism, headquartered in New York, is sponsored by the Revolutionary Communist Party. This website did yeoman work uncovering information about its participation (all from mainstream or original sources).
Refuse Fascism sent protesters to the 12 August event in Charlottesville. Its leader, Carl Dix, was also in Charlottesville to show solidarity after the blow-up on Saturday.
But Refuse Fascism is also organizing a major faction of the solidarity protests that promptly spun up with machine-like precision in cities across the country. And there’s a good reason for that. Refuse Fascism has been involved in many protests at which Antifa and fellow radical groups have had a prominent presence, including the protest of Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley – one of the incidents in which hard-left city authorities had the police stand down.
Refuse Fascism has one more trait of circumstantial interest to us. It gets funding from inveterate radical-funder George Soros, through the Alliance for Global Justice.
Soros, SURJ, and Charlottesville taxpayer money – check, check, check
But speaking of Soros, there’s a nearer and more particular connection to him in Charlottesville. And in this case, the money doesn’t come only from him, but it does figure as an eye-opening link.
The nexus of the various links is Councilwoman Kristin Szakos’ husband, Joe Szakos, a community organizer who runs the statewide group Virginia Organizing out of Charlottesville, where it is headquartered.
Virginia Organizing has the usual profile in terms of left-wing agenda and political connections. The important links in this case are its connections to the Charlottesville City Council, and to one of the main protest groups that has shown up to counter the pro-Confederates.
The protest group is Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ; not to be confused with Students United for Reproductive Justice), an activist organization dedicating the energies of white people to pursuing “racial justice.” SURJ has several chapters in Virginia, one of them in Charlottesville.
SURJ was at the Confederate memorial protests earlier this year, including the one in July, when some of its members were arrested. SURJ went all-out to recruit protesters for the 12 August event:
SURJ was present at the event, and the Charlottesville chapter kept a livestream of it going on its Facebook page.
SURJ has also been active throughout 2016 and 2017 in anti-Trump demonstrations, including the “J20” protests of the Trump inauguration in Washington, D.C., which saw the participation of dozens of far-left organizations.
Something of very particular interest about SURJ in Virginia is that, if you go to its donation page, it instructs you to write a check to Joe Szakos’ Virginia Organizing, with SURJ RVA on the memo line.
By making the contribution to Virginia Organizing, the donor can get a tax deduction:
Send a check made out to Virginia Organizing with SURJ RVA on the memo line. … Your donation is tax-deductible through Virginia Organizing, a 501c3 organization that accepts grants and donations on behalf of SURJ RVA.
This is all pretty cozy, but it gets cozier. The kicker in this Charlottesville saga is that Virginia Organizing doesn’t just get grant money from George Soros, through the Tides Foundation.
Since Kristin Szakos got elected to the Charlottesville City Council, Virginia Organizing has gotten money from the city of Charlottesville.
And not just a fleeting $4,000 in 2014 (link above). As reported by the watchdog Schilling Show, the council voted in 2016 to give Virginia Organizing $250,000 – without providing any notice for public comment.
When there’s been an inexplicable police stand-down during a protest filled with (a) SURJ and (b) violent clashes, in the city where all this is going on, it sure sounds to me like the money and influence situation needs looking into as a civil rights hazard. What in the world is Charlottesville doing here?
The Commonwealth of Virginia
Whatever it is, I don’t think I’d take the state prosecutor’s word for it. Besides the fact that Virginia Organizing and the Charlottesville City Council are connected with every level of Democratic politics in the state, Governor Terry McAuliffe gave a precipitate, quickly debunked, and frankly suspicious-sounding answer over the weekend when he was asked about the law enforcement stand-down in Charlottesville.
McAuliffe claimed that the state police were outgunned by the protesters, and said 80% of the protesters were armed, and generally had better weapons and armor than the police. It’s suspicious enough that some of his comments were later quietly edited out of the New York Times story quoting him on this. McAuliffe also made the startling claim that the police had found weapons stashed around the city, in a podcast interview with BLM-linked DeRay McKesson.
McAuliffe's report of caches of weapon in town — just need much more detail, how big, who organized/housed, and what did they envision? pic.twitter.com/EhEmQrKprH
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) August 15, 2017
But the state police, responding to media queries on the facts, refuted McAuliffe’s claims.
I just got comment back from Virginia State Police. They say, contra McAuliffe, no caches of weapons were recovered. https://t.co/rCNtEBlPsn
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) August 16, 2017
Statement from Virginia State Police spox: pic.twitter.com/N7XxCz4Gic
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) August 16, 2017
Virginia State Police spox also says troopers were not under-equipped or outgunned by militia members: pic.twitter.com/v2HLMrx9VC
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) August 16, 2017
The police stand-down in Charlottesville needs outside investigation. The difference between the Sessions DOJ and the Holder/Lynch DOJ is that with Sessions, we can expect a straightforward investigation, rather than the beginning of an extended shakedown process against the city (see here, here, here, and here as well).
As recently as July, Charlottesville managed to deploy the police effectively and use them to intervene in violent clashes by all the same people as on 12 August, and arrest the perpetrators. For Heather Heyer’s sake, and the sake of the others who suffered injuries, we need to know why that wasn’t done this past weekend.