The story of Charlottesville told in debris

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USA Today NetworkRobert King, The Indianapolis Star Published 2:14 p.m. ET Aug. 13, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Emancipation Park was quiet Sunday morning.

Gone were Saturday’s bitter crowds of white nationalists who came to vent their anger and paranoia about a nation that’s grown too diverse for them.

Gone, too, were the jeering rows of counterprotesters, who came to make a stand in the street for tolerance of that diversity but who also spewed their own invective.

Just a few blocks away, just off Charlottesville’s outdoor pedestrian mall, candles were still lit within a ring of cut flowers at a memorial for the woman killed when a car driven by a white nationalist barreled into the back of another car, setting off a chain reaction that pushed the vehicles into a crowd of pedestrians. It is a memorial that’s surely to grow.

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But as the sky lightened on a cloudy Sunday morning, the statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback — ostensibly the reason for the clashes — seemed to be surveying a battlefield still strewn with the debris from Saturday’s conflagration. And what was left behind tells much about Charlottesville’s angriest day.

There was the discarded packaging from a container of Uncle Mike’s Pepper Spray-Maximum Strength. Invisible clouds of pepper engulfed people Saturday, prompting some to leave. Powerful bursts of the stuff — 15 per container, the packaging says — sent others writhing to the ground, grasping desperately for something to douse themselves with. Here, too, was the discarded evidence of those efforts — quart-sized milk jugs, empty blue bottles of antacid and sheets upon sheets of baby wipes. Also in the detritus were laminated cards explaining how to strap on a gas mask.

There were the messages of hate. Several signs left to soak up the morning dew derided Wes Bellamy, a black Charlottesville city councilman, in the most derogatory of racial terms. Not far from the Lee statue, an Alabama publication whose website is loaded with racist messages proclaimed, “The spirit of the Southern people is alive and well, dear friends…”

Anti-Jewish suspicions, often spoken of in white nationalist circles, were evident in a sign proclaiming “THE (JE)WISH MEDIA IS GOING DOWN.” Another sign proclaimed, “WE SUPPORT PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

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Outside the park, more evidence of the disturbances remained. Dried splotches of bright colors — pink, orange and neon blue — stained the pavement. At times Saturday, counter protesters lobbed vessels of paint at approaching white nationalists, many of whom ended the day wearing Rorschach-style blots on their faces and clothing.

Out here, on the street, counterprotesters Saturday attempted to set up blockades to prevent the white nationalists from approaching the park, leading to violent collisions. Some the counterprotesters wielded clubs and pummeled people on the ground with their boots. When they allowed the white nationalists to march by unmolested, the counterprotesters shouted “Kill the Nazis.” Full water bottles flew like missiles in both directions, including from the counterprotesters, a hard-to-shorthand collection of groups that include anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations. 

Easily passed over on the street was a page from a Charlottesville publication that asked its readers to answer the question: “What’s your biggest concern about the August 12 alt-right rally?” Prominent on the page is one response: “Someone gets killed.”

By midmorning, cleanup crews with garbage bags had begun to fan out across Emancipation Park to collect the rubbish. Outside, a street cleaning machine began washing away the paint stains.

The stains Charlottesville leaves on America’s memory will take much longer to erase.

Follow Robert King on Twitter: @RbtKing

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