'We're Dealing With Something Very Dark': Charlottesville Locals Get Ready for Long Battle

Some residents are not surprised by tragic turn of events; 'I served in Vietnam, this is like guerrilla warfare,' says local Charlottesville councilman

White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.
White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. Steve Helber/AP

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The streets of the downtown were mostly empty on Sunday morning, as the town was trying to overcome the tragic events that took place here on Saturday. With three people dead and two dozen in the hospital, Charlottesville was in mourning. The two groups most represented on the street were journalists and police officers, and many stood at the intersection of Maine Street and 4th Street, where James Alex Fields drove into a crowd of left-wing protesters a day earlier. A number of news organizations hired professional security teams to protect them from possible acts of violence on the scene.

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Outside city hall, only a minute away from the crime scene, local councilman Bob Fenwick gave an interview to a local television station, trying to cheer viewers up by talking about the strength and unity of this tidy university town. Speaking to Haaretz on his way to an early morning meeting to assess the situation. “We have a beautiful city, and that’s why they chose this place to come here and spread their hate," he said. "We’re going to have to deal with that. This isn’t going to be over soon, I think it’s the beginning of something new.”

Fenwick has lived in Charlottesville for over four decades, and for him, Saturday was one of the most difficult days he can remember since moving here. “Hate came to Charlottesville yesterday,” he said. “We’re dealing with something very dark and terrible. They came here with the stated objective of hurting people and damaging property – and they succeeded in doing that.”

According to Fenwick, the far-right protesters were armed and well-trained. "They deliberately provoked people and tried to confront them. It was very sophisticated," he said. "I was right in the middle of it, taking videos, and at one point I felt something hit my foot. I looked down and it was a bleach bomb. Right after it hit, I started coughing, my eyes hurt, I couldn’t see. I don’t want to overstate it, but we have to discuss how to prevent this thing from happening here again.”

Fenwick said Saturday's chaos reminded him of his military service decades ago: “I served in Vietnam, and one of my first thoughts yesterday was, this is like a guerrilla war. It’s our own people doing this to us, coming with an intent to cause damage. They want to show people that one group is superior to others – that goes against our founding document, against what most of us believe.”

Like many residents, Fenwick said he was disappointed with President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events. “This is going to take strong leadership. You can’t shy from confronting what we saw yesterday,” Fenwick said, adding he was happy to learn that federal and local authorities were making progress in the investigation into the violence.

Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park the day after a white nationalist rally devolved into violence, Charlottesville, Virginia, August 13, 2017.
CHIP SOMODEVILLA/AFP

Orlando, who asked that his full name not be published, is a local resident born and raised in a nearby farming community. “I’ve lived here for more than 50 years, and this is the first time I’m afraid we’re going back instead of moving forward,” he said. “Being a black person in this area, I have strong memories of what it used to be like in the ‘old days,’ before the Civil Rights movement. I was so angry to see these nasty people yelling at black people, ‘niggers,’ out in the street. Many people thought we were already over that. I feel like we’re back to the 1970s all again."

"We have the [Ku Klux Klan] out in the streets, and then the Black Lives Matter groups, which are like the Black Panthers back in the day. This is crazy," he added.

Orlando said he was not surprised by the tragic turn of events: “Once I heard these KKK people were coming into town, I knew it would mean trouble. These are bad people. They have no God, no values, they only preach hate. I think many of the black folks in town were less surprised by this thing. We saw it coming.”

He is not interested in politics. “This is an area where Republicans and Democrats live together and get along and most people are just about minding their own business," he said, but added, “I was following the news when they started coming to town and I had a bad feeling. And you know, all of this over a statue. Don’t they have anything better to do with their time?”