Most of the hundreds of white supremacists, alt-righters, and neo-Nazis who traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to participate in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally, had largely fled the area by Saturday evening. Nonetheless, a sense of unease lingered Sunday, as residents were still struggling to come to terms with the surreal scenes of violence that engulfed their city, leaving three dead and more than 30 injured.
While the majority of white supremacists had left the city limits to avoid arrest, some stuck around. Jason Kessler, who organized the previous day’s rally, scheduled a press conference by City Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday. The area was heavily policed, and snipers were positioned on nearby roofs. Kessler had barely begun speaking when he was drowned out by booing and chants of “shame, shame, shame.” He was chased from the premises and vanished behind a line of police officers.
From there, groups of counterprotesters, some wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, rallied with megaphones in small crowds on the downtown mall, occasionally verbally sparring with individuals who claimed to be members of the far right.
Many of the Charlottesville residents VICE News interviewed said they weren’t totally surprised by the violence over the weekend, pointing to the Ku Klux Klan rally last month, which drew a far smaller crowd. That, they feared, was a harbinger of things to come. Almost everyone expressed anxiety that the worst was far from over, and that they didn’t know how to move forward.
Candice Maupin, 37, was out with her daughters Jacobie, 18, and Jonasia, 15, and armed with a baseball bat in case anything escalated.
“Charlottesville wasn’t like that. It shouldn’t be like that,” Maupin said about what transpired Saturday. “It doesn’t go with what’s here. It used to be love, it used to be unity, but our city has allowed hate groups to think it’s OK to come here and spew their hatred. This used to be a place where I wanted to raise my kids, but now I want to go somewhere else.”
Maupin and her daughters expressed a view shared by many who were out on Sunday that the Charlottesville Police Department had let them down. “The police are shit,” she said. Jonasia Maupin said that last month, when the KKK rallied, she felt like the police were protecting them, and not her.
Joseph Payne, 18, and his brother Joshua, 20, who are African-American, have lived in Charlottesville their whole lives. They’d just come from church and wanted to visit the memorial for Heather Heyer, who died Saturday when a car plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters. As they walked away from the downtown mall, they thanked officers for their service.
Both young men said that people criticizing the police weren’t being fair. “Imagine how bad it could have been if there were no police,” said Joshua, who is about to join the Marines.
“Charlottesville wasn’t like that. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Neither said they’d experienced such out-and-out racism during their life in Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t around. “It’s always under the surface,” said Joshua. “It’s hard to describe and hard for people to understand, but this all shows the world that racism is still alive.”
With the dust still not settled and the town awash with media trucks and out-of-towners, some residents said they found themselves on edge and suspicious, seeing strange faces and wondering whether any were white supremacists.
“They are hate-mongers from out of town,” said Chris Cehan, 45, who has lived in Charlottesville for more than 20 years. “They killed our friends. They planted the seed of suspicion. I’m suspicious, today, of the people around me. They planted that seed.”
Rosia Parker, 45, a local activist, says she has a “mental problem” after witnessing the events of the last two days. She says she saw the moment that an alleged white supremacist drove a vehicle into a crowd, and the moment that 32-year-old Heyer was thrown into the air and smashed her skull. The night before, she said that white supremacists holding torches circled her church. Not once, she said, did she feel protected by law enforcement.
Parker was with Aaliyah Jones, 38, and Jones’ boyfriend, Joseph Culver, 33, a veteran who recently got out of prison. Jones said she felt like she was in a movie on Sunday. “I was scared,” said Jones. “I was afraid for my life.”