‘Brink of civil war’? American divide reaches boiling point under Trump
In recent years, America has witnessed the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which started in Ferguson, Missouri after an unarmed black teen was shot by a white police officer. Occupy Wall Street, which began in New York City in 2011, also transformed into a nationwide mass protest movement, with the aim of drawing attention to economic injustice and political corruption.
Trump’s own inauguration was marked by nationwide protests, revealing deep divisions in the US on a range of issues, such as health care, gun control, immigration, and climate change.
This week in Charlottesville, Virginia, the ‘Unite the Right’ rally saw white supremacists clashing with counter-protesters, resulting in at least three deaths. A woman was killed and dozens were injured in a car ramming attack at a counter-protest. Two police officers were also killed as a helicopter monitoring the protests crashed in the woods near Charlottesville.
There are deeply conflicting opinions regarding what is taking place with the protest movements and related violence in the country, and who is responsible for it. RT looks at a variety of voices across the political spectrum.
US far-right: emboldened or on the defensive?
A common idea among the political left is that the election of President Donald Trump and his ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign have “emboldened” far-right groups in the US. This is also seen as a general trend in the Western world, with right-wing parties becoming more prominent than they have been in decades.
Author and historian Gerald Horne says “there has been a mushrooming and skyrocketing of the number of white supremacist organizations and incidents spearheaded by white supremacists” since Donald Trump was elected.
“When they look across the Atlantic, they see the credible effort by Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France to claim the presidency, they look to Germany and see the rise of the Alternative for Germany party which has ultra-right tendencies to put it mildly, they look at Norway and see the rise of right-wing populists throughout Scandinavia. This is putting wind in the sails of right-wing populists here in the US, who have one of their own, Donald J. Trump, now occupying the Oval Office,” Horne said.
Horne believes that “the heart of the Trump electoral base still has hatred for black people,” and that white nationalists in America are now “flexing their muscles.”
However, the position of the nationalist groups is clearly not as comfortable as it may sound, with radical left groups such as Antifa staging mass counter-protests and clashing with far-right protesters, whether they identify as ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘alt-right.’ The right-wing camp believes the clashes are not spontaneous, and that they often stem from well-organized provocations.
Earlier this year, anti-fascists clashed with alt-right activists in Berkeley, California in series of violent protests over the planned appearances of high-profile conservative figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, which were eventually cancelled. Lawyer and filmmaker Mike Cernovich spoke to RT about the wave of protests in the US.
“What we saw [in Charlottesville] is a part of a broader trend which actually started in what they call in America the ‘Battle of Berkeley.’ There were some of these alt-right events, they went to a park and then there were left-wing groups called Antifa – antifascists – but really were not distinguishable from Nazis. They got in huge street fights in the middle of Berkeley like nothing I have even seen,” Cernovich said.
Many conservatives believe that what started as the left simply venting frustration over Trump’s victory in the presidential election has now grown into a full-fledged political movement aimed at obstructing freedom of speech.
Cernovich, who says he is no fan of the nationalists behind the Charlottesville protest, believes that the threat of far-right groups in the US is overblown, and that the corporate media is using them for their own political agenda.
“Last night they had a torch night, maybe 500 people showed up, if the American media did not show up and say, ‘hey, we will make you all famous, we will put you on the front page of a newspaper, we will promote you…’ if the counter-demonstrators and Antifa did not show up looking for a fight, you would have had a couple hundred showing up, having a little event, nobody would have noticed, and they would go away,” Cernovich says, arguing that “the media and people like George Soros are feeding this.”
Trump’s goal: flirting with nationalists or fighting the establishment?
Trump is presumed to be a favorite among far-right voters, and this notion has often been used to associate the 45th US president to racists, bigots, and white supremacists, and to suggest that he is championing their cause.
Trump’s stated goals, however, were to “drain the swamp” and fight the current US establishment to improve the life of Americans and revitalize America’s shaky economy.
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer lashed out at Trump following the violent events on Saturday, saying that the president made a “regrettable” choice in his campaign by “courting” nationalist groups and giving them “a reason to come into the light.”
“Look at the campaign he ran. Look at the intentional courting… of all these white supremacists, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups,” Signer said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’
He then told NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’: “When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change, the devil changes you.”
Many Trump supporters believe that this type of labeling is one of the establishment’s ways of discrediting and attacking Trump.
“I think there are elements inside of Washington, also inclusive of the White House, that are not necessarily abetting the president’s interests or his agenda,” former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
Scaramucci said that “the president is not a representative of the political establishment class, so for whatever reason the people have made a decision that they want to eject him.”
Scaramucci, however, criticized Trump for not calling out the white supremacists strongly enough, saying that “whether it’s domestic or international terrorism, with the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out.”
The White House on Sunday was forced to clarify that “the president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
Following the events in Charlottesville, Trump condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
‘Brink of civil war’ or the left pitted against the right?
The recent escalation has been interpreted as both a reflection of long-standing divides in America, as well as a deliberate rocking of the boat by “opportunists” on both sides.
“This sort of feels like the first major confrontation of left vs. right directly against one another in the streets of an American city since Donald Trump became president, so there is a lot at stake,” political cartoonist, Ted Rall told RT. “This is really embarrassing, as an American I can only look at Charlottesville and say this does not make us look good, and it is really a very bad day for our country.”
According to Rall, Trump may be “playing into the hands” of the opportunists “by trying to play the egalitarian card and saying that all sides need to be peaceful.”
Mike Cernovich believes the opposite, saying that “since the inauguration,” America has been “on the brink of civil war,” and “there has been a lot of violence on both sides,” which is becoming “more extreme and more violent.”
The recent events are not “spontaneous,” some experts say, suggesting that it might have been a well-prepared development to further polarize people in the US.
“I walked about a mile [this weekend] through places in New York, where there are already protests. They don’t look very spontaneous to me. There are printed flags, placards. I think people on both sides are spurring a fight,” political analyst and writer Charles Ortel told RT.
Speaking about Charlottesville, he said that “on the one hand, I think that the organizers of the event certainly were looking to instigate trouble. I think we’re going to find in due course of time that the other side, the Antifa people, who were so active months ago out at Berkeley, denying a forum to a conservative speaker, we’re going to find out that they also are guilty.”
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.