Conspiracies and Counter-narratives: How the pro-Trump Media Sees Charlottesville

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In this photo taken August 11, 2017, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In this photo taken August 11, 2017, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. Credit: Mykal McEldowney/AP

Following the traumatic events in Charlottesville Saturday, mainstream news outlets reported on the disturbing tone of the white supremacist rally and criticized U.S. President Donald Trump's response to the violence which left a young woman dead and 19 other protestors injured.

Typical headlines ranged from CNN’s “How a white nationalist rally turned deadly in Charlottesville,” to USA Today’s “Trump’s Charlottesville disgrace: White supremacists aren’t just another ‘side,’” to the New York Times’ “Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville violence are criticized as insufficient.”

But the tone in the pro-Trump publications and across social media platforms  associated to the so-called "alt-right" reflected a different narrative, one in which peaceful demonstrators on the right were legitimately protesting a decision to remove statues of Confederate generals, only a minority of them holding objectionably racist views. The non-violent protesters were then ambushed and attacked by aggressive leftists, led by what it says is a militant network of anti-fascist organizations called Antifa, all while the authorities stood by.

On the fringe, complex conspiracy theories about Saturday’s events abounded to enhance that narrative, implying the entire event was planned and staged by nefarious globalists and deep-state forces in order to silence conservatives and hamper Trump.  

The Breitbart News website, associated with White House strategist Stephen Bannon, ran several articles emphasizing the role of Antifa, the anti-fascist organization that challenged the “Unite the Right” white nationalist demonstrators with counterprotests and was the target of the car attack.

Breitbart said they used violent tactics, including punching a female journalist. Its articles bemoaned the fact that “what transpired amounted to a disgusting and unwelcome throwback to segregationist ideas and rhetoric at a time when patriotic conservatism is gaining ground. While many media minutes and deliberations will be afforded to the fascistic right, almost none will be dedicated to the fascistic left.”

Breitbart stressed the “refusal” of “gun control advocate” Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to condemn Antifa, with its reporter noting, “I asked Governor McAuliffe four times tonight to condemn in equal measure the violence of Antifa. I didn’t want him to rescind criticism of the alt-right. I didn’t expect him to be nuanced. But I did think – perhaps foolishly – that he might want to distance himself from violent tactics on both sides. I supposed wrong.”

On Breitbart, Trump’s remark criticizing violence had come from “many sides” remark was credited as having sufficiently condemned any racism on the white nationalist protesters. Complaints about his reaction were painted as being ammunition from his political enemies. Breitbart also noted that “Celebrities Blame Trump” for the violence in a piece featuring angry curse-laden tweets from stars Rob Reiner, Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, John Legend, Lady Gaga and a long list of others.

But even Breitbart’s accusations were mild compared to the information disseminated on the Alex Jones Infowars site, which pointed to a George Soros-funded conspiracy behind Saturday’s events, in a video headlined “Virginia riots staged to bring in martial law, ban conservative gatherings.” 

In the video rant, Jones discusses a left-wing plot to spark a race war designed to trigger the imposition of martial law. He charges police and Charlottesville authorities with setting up rightist demonstrators to be “attacked” by the “Antifa meth heads “who were “bussed in by Soros” to “give them a victory.” He further alleged that liberal civil rights groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center had “infiltrated” the right-wing demonstrators and deliberately provoked violence.

The strategy of the left-wing conspiracy to “control the police” and “control the media,” Jones said, is “luring the right wing into towns where (they) control everything” in order to incite violent clashes to justify “banning all conservatives and libertarians.”

The “mayor in that town,” said Jones, was “working with the Antifa.” Mayor Michael Signer, the Jewish mayor of Charlottesville who has been a target of the so-called "alt-right," has blamed Trump for stoking the violence that took place Saturday. “I’m not going to make any bones about it,” Signer said. “I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”

Among those in Israel on Sunday defending Trump – and entertaining some of the conspiracy theories – was Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Abroad, who retweeted Trump supporter and Fox News commentator David Clarke saying that he was “Proud of @realDonaldTrump statement condemning violence in Charlottesville. Very Presidential. Didn’t take sides like Obama in Ferguson riot.”

Zell tweeted speculation that perhaps the violence at the Charlottesville rally was indeed the product of a plot concocted by Antifa and Soros.

On the neo-Nazi front, the website Daily Stormer took conspiracy theory a step further by suggesting that the car attack could have been a false flag event, but asking if its suspected perpetrator, Fields, could be Jewish.

Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin based his suspicion on the suspect’s mother’s name, Samantha Bloom, whose video interview with AP has been widely circulated.

Anglin wrote: “‘Bloom’ is an almost exclusively Jewish name. He looks Jewish. Or at least like he could be Jewish. And I mean, look. Go to this Wikipedia list of people named ‘Bloom.’ They are pretty much all Jewish (except Orlando Bloom, who is not American).”

He theorized, “It looks to me as though he was probably Jewish, and going there to fight Nazis, but is insane and didn’t know who he was crashing into. I just think if he was in any way associated with the alt-right, they would have found that information immediately and posted it.”

Anglin was quoted by the website Business Insider as celebrating Trump’s “outright refusal to disavow” the white nationalist rally and movement.

He viewed it as a victory that at a press conference, Trump “refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room.”

Former KKK leader and abiding white supremacist David Duke, who attended the Charlottesville rally, did not speculate that Fields was Jewish, but instead suggested an alternative theory for the young man’s actions. Duke posited that he had been in fear for his life, casting his decision to drive his car into the crowd of protesters as a form of self-defense.

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