By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
On Aug. 11 and 12, a group of “white nationalists” (a watered-down term intended to normalize white supremacists) took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the campus of the University of Virginia, in what was billed as a “Unite the Right” rally, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Among the group were neo-Nazis — complete with Nazi paraphernalia and symbols — heavily armed white supremacist militia, and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Carrying tiki torches while marching on Friday night through the UVA campus, where the Lee statue was located, the neo-Nazi horde chanted “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” a reference to the 1930s German Nazi movement’s quest for racial purity.
Countering the message of hate were scores of people of all colors, creeds, religions, orientations and nationalities, spreading a message of inclusion and acceptance. Included among the counter-protesters were members of the Antifa (short for anti-fascists) movement, who have been prone to occasional violent outbursts of their own while protesting white supremacists and police brutality against minorities.
There were a handful of skirmishes, including a group of white supremacists that severely beat a black man. One white nationalist pulled out a handgun, cocked it, and aimed it at a black man’s head before realizing he had the safety on, then proceeded to fire a shot into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when 20-year-old white supremacist James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, striking Heyer and dozens of others.
The response to such events would seem to be rather easy: condemnation for the hate mongers who brought this scourge to Charlottesville in the first place.
“There is no place for the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in civil society. They do not represent the values upon which our nation was founded,” or something along those lines, would seem to be the type of statement our leaders would be expected to make.
For President Donald Trump, apparently it was not so easy.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said, equating counter-protesters with the white supremacists.
Trump’s statements drew strong rebukes from both sides of the aisle.
Scott Peters (D-52) called on Congress to censure Trump.
“The hatred and violence we saw erupt in Charlottesville does not reflect who we are as a country,” Peters said in a press statement. “There is only one side: the one of respect, justice, and kindness. The hateful, malicious tone set by Donald Trump — from his campaign, to his presidency, to his tweets — is only dividing us as a country. It shouldn’t take an act of Congress or public shaming for President Trump to know he’s on the wrong side.”
“Many sides? This is about one side emboldened by Trump’s hateful rhetoric. Must keep standing against violence and bigotry,” wrote Susan Davis (D-53) on Twitter.
Darrell Issa (R-49) called for a congressional inquiry into the impact of white supremacist groups on civil rights.
“We have a duty to more fully understand what led to these terrible events and the persistence of these hateful, extremist ideologies,” Issa wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte, requesting the hearings. “While Congress cannot legislate respect, decency, or acceptance of others, we have an obligation to use our platform to lead our country forward on these matters.”
“@POTUS’ remarks on #Charlottesville are horribly offensive. By failing to condemn white supremacists, he emboldens their racist mission,” tweeted Juan Vargas (D-51).
Noticeably silent on the matter was Duncan Hunter (R-50). Hunter has been, and apparently remains, one of Trump’s most ardent supporters.
“He’s just like he is on TV,” Hunter told a gathering of the Riverside County Young Republicans. “He’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”
Meanwhile, Hunter’s legal troubles continue to mount, as FBI agents, armed with a federal search warrant, raided the Virginia offices of his campaign’s treasurer. Agents seized several computer hard drives, laptops, tablets and iPads, as well as bills and disbursement records from Election CFO, an Alexandria, Virginia-based company whose slogan is “We do compliance so you can do politics.”
The warrant and subsequent raid marked an escalation in the investigation of multiple alleged violations of campaign finance laws. Hunter was forced to repay in excess of $62,000 after it was discovered that he used campaign funds for personal expenses, including air transportation for his pet rabbit, his children’s private school tuition, and personal vacation expenses in Italy and Arizona, among other expenditures.
President Trump signed the Forever G.I. Bill into law in August. The bill, which provides funding for veterans to help them attain a college education, eliminates the 15-year availability limit, allowing access to the funds at any time after their separation from the military.
The law contains language written by Peters that makes all Purple Heart recipients eligible for full funding. Previously, only Purple Heart recipients who had served for at least three years were eligible for the full G.I. Bill.
Davis issued a rebuke of President Trump for his proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military.
“Transgender service members have and are serving with honor, distinction, and courage,” Davis said. “No evidence has been presented to warrant this ban, which is based solely on discrimination.”
After Trump initially ordered the ban via Twitter, the heads of each branch of the military all issued statements saying, in effect, that they would ignore the tweet until official direction was provided. He has since done so.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.