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Charlottesville Survivor: There’s No Question, This Was Terrorism

Brandy Gonzalez, who survived the car rampage, weighs in on the weekend event.

An injured counter-protester is wheeled into an ambulance during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Image: Democracy Now)An injured counter-protester is wheeled into an ambulance during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Image: Democracy Now!)

We spend the hour examining the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend that erupted into violence, resulting in three deaths. After a torchlit march of hundreds on the University of Virginia campus Friday night, more than 1,000 white nationalists descended on the city on Saturday to oppose a plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. They were met by anti-racist counterdemonstrators, and fights broke out before the rally began. Witnesses report police did little to intervene. Shortly after the protest began, a man later identified as James Alex Fields drove his vehicle into a crowd of counterdemonstrators in what many are calling an act of terrorism. A local paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed in the attack, and at least 19 others were injured. Two Virginia state troopers also died Saturday when their helicopter crashed en route to the scene of the violence. On Saturday, Trump addressed reporters at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides.” We begin our roundtable discussion with Brandy Gonzalez, who survived the car rampage, and Lisa Moore, a registered nurse who assisted a victim of the car attack.


AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour on the terror in Charlottesville, a so-called Unite the Right white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville this weekend, that erupted into violence, resulting in three deaths. Thousands of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville to participate in the rally on Friday night and Saturday and oppose a plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. They were soon outnumbered by opponents, including clergy, students, Black Lives Matter activists, and protesters with the antifascist movement known as “antifa.”

Events began late on Friday, when hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists held a surprise march on the main quadrangle of the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting “Blood and soil,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.” They walked to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, surrounded a small group of counterprotesters gathered there, including a small group of students with a banner reading “Virginia Students Act Against White Supremacy.” ProPublica reports that despite intense interest from the media, police and local anti-racists, the white supremacists kept the location of their intimidating Friday night march secret until the last minute. In a Facebook post, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, called it a, quote, “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance” and said he was “beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” Signer said.

The next day, Saturday, the far-right forces, numbering between a thousand and 1,500, marched to Emancipation Park for a rally set to take place at noon. Many wore body armor and carried assault rifles and pistols, taking advantage of Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They were met by anti-racist counterdemonstrators, and fights broke out before the rally began. Witnesses report police did little to intervene.

Then, around 1:45 p.m. Virginia time, a man later identified as James Alex Fields drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of demonstrators, then peeled away in reverse at high speed, in what many are calling an act of terror. An iconic image of the car attack featured in media around the world shows protesters flying through the air after they were hit. A local paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed in the car attack. At least 19 others were injured. Heather worked at Miller Law Group, a law firm that helps people going through bankruptcy. She had repeatedly championed civil rights issues on her social media. Her Facebook cover read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” A statement from Heyer’s mother on the GoFundMe page read, quote, “She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her.” This is her mother, Susan Bro, speaking on NBC.

SUSAN BRO: And that’s what she was doing that day, yesterday, when she was killed. She was doing that with people. She was saying, ‘Well, tell me why you’re here.’ And I know this because this is what her friends told me. And that’s what Heather’s life was all about: passion for fairness, passion for equality, passion for justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Two Virginia state troopers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, also died on Saturday, when their helicopter crashed en route to the scene of the violence. In another incident Saturday, white supremacists were captured in a photo beating 20-year-old African-American protester De’Andre Harris, who is a hip-hop artist and assistant special education teacher at an area high school. Harris later described the attack to the Los Angeles Times.

DE’ANDRE HARRIS: Standing here, and then we was walking down as they were walking down. And then I think we got like right here, and they just rushed us.

REPORTER: Where’s here?

DE’ANDRE HARRIS: Yeah, like right here, in this open way right here.

REPORTER: So right in front of — the police station is right here.

DE’ANDRE HARRIS: I keep hearing all this chaos going around me, and I feel myself getting hit. So I’m trying to get up and run, but I can’t. Every time I got up, I just lose consciousness and fall back out, ’til the last time I got to open my eyes, and I see all my friends there. And they pick me up and take me over there so I can get help. I was gashed in the head, broke my wrists, chipped my tooth, busted my lip, got a bunch of cuts and abrasions all on my knees and elbows. I got eight staples in my head.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people shown in the photo of white supremacists assaulting Harris is Michael Tubbs, a well-known KKK member. On Saturday, President Trump addressed reporters at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides — on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.

AMY GOODMAN: A new White House statement Sunday explicitly denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, but it was attributed to an unnamed spokesperson and not the president himself. The Justice Department says it’s launched an investigation.

Meanwhile, James Alex Fields, the man who drove his car into the crowd, has now been charged with second-degree murder and other counts and has a bond hearing this morning. Local media reports quote a high school teacher who knew Fields and said Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler and had been singled out by Ohio school officials in the ninth grade for his, quote, “deeply held radical convictions on race.”

For more, we’re going to Charlottesville, Virginia, where we’re joined by Brandy Gonzalez, who survived the car rampage, when she was protesting against the white nationalists. Also in Charlottesville is Lisa Moore. She’s a registered nurse who assisted a victim of the car attack. Then we will do a roundtable with religious leaders and a member of Black Lives Matter, a professor at University of Virginia, who was part of the organizing of the antifascist protesters.

Let’s begin with Brandy. Let’s begin our show right now, this — with Brandy Gonzalez. Brandy Gonzalez is a survivor, as of this weekend, a survivor of the car rampage. Brandy, talk about what happened on Saturday, why you were there protesting and what happened when this car pulled up.

BRANDY GONZALEZ: Well, first, I just want to say thank you for having me on the show, and I also wanted to say that my heart goes out to Heather Heyer and her friends and family and everyone. You know, I just — this didn’t need to happen. And I just — you know, there’s a lot of love out there for everyone. I just wanted to say that first.

I was out there on Saturday because I firmly believe that when white supremacy, when fascism, when antiblackness, when all of that decides to show its ugly face, you — we all have a responsibility to stand up and oppose it, to fight it and to make sure that they know that it’s not OK, will never be OK, that they always lose, they historically lose, and that they will lose again. That’s why I decided to be there.

On Saturday, we, me and my group, arrived at around 8:00 a.m. to Emancipation Park. You know, there was like the beginnings of things, lots of Nazis and Klan and other various groups all gathering behind their barricades. It wasn’t until like maybe an hour after that that things started to get tense over there, the — a heavier presence of — I believe they call themselves the “Alt-Knights,” I don’t know, but they were just white supremacists carrying like automatic weapons and like completely holding the line around the area. And I definitely was — I saw their presence far more than police for the first couple of hours. And it wasn’t until, at least that I noticed, that when some — another group decided to like march down to join them that some scuffles broke out. There was tear gas being thrown from inside Emancipation Park, from inside their confines. I dodged many tree limbs. Just lots — lots of violence coming from their side, lots of slurs. It wasn’t until later, around 11:00 a.m., when a large group of members of DSA, Democratic Socialists of America, attempted to come into the area at Emancipation Park and were met with tear gas from — I’m not sure if the tear gas was coming from police. I believe it was coming from police, but it’s possible that it was more from — from the white nationalists in the little pen. But they came around down the corner from McGuffey Park and held that corner for a long time. It was really amazing. I know at that point a friend of mine and I were treating some people that had suffered from tear gas and like pepper spray and things like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what happened just after noon, just after 1:00 p.m.

BRANDY GONZALEZ: Well, we — so, we had — we had gotten word that some Nazis were planning on heading down to Friendship Circle, which is a neighborhood of color, to incite violence and hurt people. And so, a group from DSA had headed down there to assist them, and, luckily, had found out that the neighborhood had actually taken care of it themselves and driven them out. And at that point, the rest of us that were at McGuffey Park started marching down towards Water Street, where we were just, you know, chanting so many beautiful things, like, you know, people together. It was a really beautiful thing. We got to the top of Water Street, and we could see the crowd of DSA coming down the opposite hill over the train tracks, coming from Friendship Circle, where they had just basically, you know, encountered a victory. And we all were joining together at the corner. And like, I had just — I just sent a message to my friend in which I said that I had never — I never felt more powerful, in that moment, with all those people. I’m sorry.

And then, it was — we turned the corner, and it was not even a minute after I sent that message to my friend that the car came through. I heard a loud screech, and my friend and I grabbed each other by the arm and jumped onto the sidewalk. And it was just — it was just chaos. I just — I’ve never screamed like that before in my entire life. I’ve never heard things like that. I’ve never seen anything like that before in my entire life. All like — I wasn’t even — there was just so much going on where I was at, I didn’t — I wasn’t even thinking, like screaming for my friends and family. I just saw people on the ground, and I thought they were dead.

AMY GOODMAN: That car —


AMY GOODMAN: That car crashed into another car that then crashed into everyone else?

BRANDY GONZALEZ: Yes. And then, once they slammed into the car, there was a lot of people still in the road, and that’s when they threw it in reverse, and they flew back, and hurting more people, and were kind of chased out of the mall. And that car came down very far through the mall, through alleys, before it got to us. So there’s no question on intent. This was an act of terrorism. Anyone who questions that, we know why you’re questioning it. We know why. It’s not a secret. We know — we know it’s terrorism. That’s what they wanted, and that’s what they did.

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Moore, I wanted to — Brandy, I wanted to bring in Lisa, who’s sitting next to you, a registered nurse who assisted other victims at the car attack. Can you describe what you found there right after James Alex Fields smashed his car into another car, leading to the injury of many and the death of a 32-year-old woman who was protesting against racism, named Heather Heyer?

LISA MOORE: Yeah, sure, and I’d also like to thank you for having me. I was not on the scene when it happened. I was actually at McGuffey Park at the time. We were very tied into — we had walkie-talkies, and, of course, we had phones, and we were keeping very kind of abreast of what was needed. As an RN, I was — I was trying to be in tune to where I was needed. The texts came very quickly, in rapid succession, that the car — act of terrorism, including with the car, had happened. I ran from McGuffey Park down the mall. Anytime I would come upon a crowd, I just screamed, “I’m an RN! I’m an RN!” And people were very happy to just let me through.

When I got upon the scene, there was a wall of policemen kind of keeping people from it, and I told them immediately, “I’m an RN, and I want to help.” They let me through. It had probably been less than five minutes, maybe five minutes, after it happened when I got there. It was very chaotic. There was a lot of screaming. There were a lot of people on the ground. There was a lot of blood on the ground. And there were, thankfully, a lot of people already helping. There were other medics. I happened to end up near one victim who was a young woman, who I now know was in town from Houston. She was very confused. She was conscious. She was able to talk; however, it was clear to me that she was very injured and needed assistance. So, I felt that my skills could best be used with her, without having to wade further into the crowd of chaos. And so I ended up primarily staying with her for the better part of an hour, until we got her in an ambulance, where she was taken to UVA. She also had a friend — two friends with her, one of which was also minorly injured, so she wasn’t so much a priority.

But it was very chaotic. It was very surreal. I would absolutely describe it as a terrorism scene. There was a lot of fear. There was a lot of uncertainty. The whole time I was running there, I didn’t know what I was going to come upon. I wasn’t, at the time, worried about it. In retrospect, I’m a little relieved that nothing else of violence happened afterwards, so that we were able to get the victims out and get them help.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandy Gonzalez, before we go to break and we say goodbye to you, President Trump did not single out white supremacist violence. Your comments on this, as people across the political spectrum, including many of what were his Republican allies, condemn his statements or lack of statements, even as, the time of this broadcast today, he’s tweeted a number of things, none of them about what took place this weekend?

BRANDY GONZALEZ: I think it just sends a very clear message of who he is not willing to offend. And that’s pretty clear. I think that’s been clear for a really long time. I do want to say, however, on a state level, that I’m very unhappy with the comments from Governor McAuliffe, from the mayor of Charlottesville and from the chief of police of Charlottesville. The press statement they made on the day was just one after the other of “This is not my fault.” And every update that I’ve received is completely unacceptable. I personally believe that there should be a public and clear apology from the three, and also an apology from the ACLU for fighting for their right to have that rally, because this all could have been prevented, and all you’re doing is sending a clear message of who you care about. So, maybe people should stop and realize what their actions and what the things that they do are actually saying to us, the people.

And also, just I would like to end on a high note of like, they didn’t win yesterday. White supremacy did not win yesterday. They did not do anything that they came there to do successfully, besides incite a little bit of fear. But this will not intimidate us. I believe that we can win, and we will win. And it’s not over. And we’re going to — we’re always going to be there to fight it.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandy Gonzalez, I want to thank you for joining us —


AMY GOODMAN: — injured in the car attack, what has been called domestic terrorism, on Saturday. And Lisa Moore, registered nurse, who was helping some of the victims in Charlottesville, Virginia. When we come back, we’ll be joined by one of the organizers of the anti-white supremacist protest. We’ll be talking to Jalane Schmidt, a professor at the University of Virginia. Dr. Cornel West spoke both Friday night and Saturday night in Charlottesville. And we’ll be speaking with Reverend Traci Blackmon, who was also there. Stay with us.

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