One year after Charlottesville

Comments from SPLC President Richard Cohen


A year ago this coming Saturday, hundreds of racists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, leaving death in their wake and a stunned nation seeking answers and leadership.

Tragically, Heather Heyer, a young woman who stood up to racism, was killed by a white supremacist. Two law enforcement officers also died while trying to keep the peace that day.

President Trump equivocated – unable to see the difference between white supremacists and people like Heather who opposed them. In his view, some “very fine people” were among the torch-bearing racists chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us.”

This past weekend, we once again saw the face of hate – this time in Portland, Oregon, where multiple people were injured in street fighting provoked by far-right extremists. Next weekend, white supremacists are planning a rally in our nation’s capital.

No one should be surprised. This is Donald Trump’s America. These are the forces he has unleashed.

Rather than try to pull the country together after Charlottesville – rather than examine the impact of his own rhetoric and actions – Trump has doubled down on the toxic xenophobia and fearmongering that have fueled his political life.

Like calling African nations “shithole countries.”

Like sowing fear by repeatedly conjuring images of violent Latino gangs.

Like closing the doors to asylum seekers and putting their children in cages.

Like saying immigrants “infest” our country.

Like labeling our free press as the “enemy of the people.”

 It’s all part of the ugly, destructive ethno-nationalism Trump is advancing both at home and abroad. White supremacists and anti-democratic extremists everywhere are cheering their friend in the White House. His words nourish and energize them.

Apathy is not an option.

We all have a responsibility – not simply to speak out but to act.

Over the past year, we’ve had the honor of representing Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother. I’d like to share her words from Heather’s memorial service:

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. … Find what’s wrong; don’t ignore it; don’t look the other way. Make it a point to look at it and say to yourself: “What can I do to make a difference?” That’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child but, by golly, if I got to give her up, then we’re going to make it count.

This week, as we remember Charlottesville, I’m asking each of you to commit to making Heather’s life count. If you’re looking for a place to start, please watch this brief video, Ten Ways to Fight Hate, and share it widely on social media.

Thank you for standing with us and Heather’s mother against hate and injustice.


Read and download our community response guide on 10 Ways to Fight Hate.