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Charlottesville: Reflecting On And Dissecting What Happened


We're going to spend much of this hour in Charlottesville, Va., where events over the weekend have been described as mayhem, catastrophic, a stain on America, even domestic terrorism. Violence erupted yesterday after white nationalist groups descended on the city of Charlottesville. The so-called Unite The Right rally was protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the center of the city, though people tell us it goes much deeper than that. We're going to hear from a variety of voices today as we reflect on what happened. First, let's talk about what we know. After police dispersed the massive crowd, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly slammed his car into a group of people who had come to march against the white supremacists. Thirty-two-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer lost her life in that car attack. Nineteen others were injured. Two Virginia state police officers also died in a helicopter crash. They had been monitoring the rally. The Department of Justice has opened a federal probe into the events in Charlottesville. This afternoon, there was more trouble. Sandy Hausman of WVTF is here to bring us up to speed. She joins us live from Charlottesville. Good to speak with you again, Sandy.


SMITH: So, Sandy, we mentioned there was more trouble today. What happened? Set the scene for us.

HAUSMAN: Well, Stacey, the man who organized yesterday's Unite The Right rally had a press conference this afternoon, or at least he tried. It turned out, several hundred people found about it, and they showed up to shout Jason Kessler down.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you.

HAUSMAN: After Kessler had spoken for less than five minutes, largely drowned out by chanting, a man rushed up, shouting that the white supremacist leader should be charged with murder in connection with the crash that killed one person and injured 19 other people. The crowd then closed in on Kessler and pursued him. He ran away. State Police in riot gear blocked the mob, and that allowed Kessler to escape.

SMITH: You spoke with several people there today. What else did you hear?

HAUSMAN: Well, it was kind of ironic. This whole event took place under statues of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who lived in this area and were the original supporters of the First Amendment. But when I talked to Susan Chrishell (ph), Sharonda Brown (ph), Jay Scott (ph) and Brenda Castaneda (ph), they didn't see any problem with what happened.

SUSAN CHRISHELL: I support everyone saying what they want to say. But when it becomes violent, nobody belongs here, and I don't care what your position is.

HAUSMAN: Do you blame Jason Kessler for what happened yesterday?

SHARONDA BROWN: Yeah, yeah, I think it's - yeah, it's his fault pretty much.

JAY SCOTT: We also blame Donald Trump. You know, the hat says make America great again, which everybody already knows that means - from the white supremacists' view, it means make America white again.

BRENDA CASTANEDA: You know, we were here yesterday. We're all pretty tired, but they've got to know that we don't want them here and that every time they come out to rally, they're going to be met with heavy opposition.

HAUSMAN: What about the First Amendment? Aren't they allowed to speak?

CASTANEDA: Sure, they're allowed to speak. But that, you know, that constrains what the government can do. It doesn't constrain what citizens can do. It doesn't mean that we can't stand up and yell louder than they are.

SMITH: Were there any other injuries today?

HAUSMAN: Fortunately, there were not, although one man was arrested for spitting on Jason Kessler. And we also had some good news from the University of Virginia Medical Center, where the injured people were taken yesterday. Ten of them are now in good condition, and nine have been released.

SMITH: That's Sandy Hausman, Charlottesville bureau chief of member station WVTF. Sandy, thank you.

HAUSMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.