John Whitehead's Commentary
What Went Wrong in Charlottesville: At All Levels, Government Is Still the Problem
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.”—Ronald Reagan
Corruption. Graft. Intolerance. Greed. Incompetence. Ineptitude. Militarism. Lawlessness. Ignorance. Brutality. Deceit. Collusion. Corpulence. Bureaucracy. Immorality. Depravity. Censorship. Cruelty. Violence. Mediocrity. Tyranny.
These are the hallmarks of an institution that is rotten through and through.
What you smell is the stench of a dying republic. Our dying republic.
The American experiment in freedom is failing fast.
Through every fault of our own—our apathy, our ignorance, our intolerance, our disinclination to do the hard work of holding government leaders accountable to the rule of law, our inclination to let politics trump longstanding constitutional principles—we have been reduced to this sorry state in which we are little more than shackled inmates in a prison operated for the profit of a corporate elite.
We have been saddled with the wreckage of a government at all levels that no longer represents the citizenry, serves the citizenry, or is accountable to the citizenry.
We’re not the masters anymore.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the federal government, state governments, or local governing bodies: at all ends of the spectrum and every point in between, a shift has taken place.
“We the people” are not being seen, heard or valued.
We no longer count for much of anything beyond an occasional electoral vote and as a source of income for the government’s ever-burgeoning financial needs.
Everything happening at the national level is playing out at the local level, as well: the violence, the militarization, the intolerance, the lopsided governance, and an uneasy awareness that the citizenry have no say in how their communities are being governed.
Take my own hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, for instance.
In recent years, Charlottesville has been plagued by government leaders who are tone-deaf, focused on their own aggrandizement, and incapable of prioritizing the needs of their constituents over their own personal and political agendas; law enforcement officials for whom personal safety, heavy-handed militarized tactics, and power plays trump their duty to serve and protect; polarized citizens incapable of finding common ground, respecting each other’s rights, or agreeing to disagree; and a community held hostage by political correctness, divisive rhetoric and a growing intolerance for any views that may be unpopular or at odds with the mainstream.
It was a perfect storm just waiting for the right conditions to wreak havoc.
Unfortunately, the maelstrom hit in the summer of 2017, when Charlottesville, regularly cited as being one of the happiest cities in America, became ground zero for a heated war of words—and actions—over racism, “sanitizing history,” extremism (both right and left), political correctness, hate speech, partisan politics, and a growing fear that violent words will end in violent actions.
In Charlottesville, as in so many parts of the country right now, the conflict was over how to reconcile the nation’s checkered past, particularly as it relates to slavery, with the present need to sanitize the environment of anything—words and images—that might cause offense, especially if it’s a Confederate flag or monument.
That fear of offense prompted the Charlottesville City Council to get rid of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that has graced one of its public parks for 82 years.
That’s when everything went haywire.
In attempting to pacify one particularly vocal and righteously offended group while railroading over the concerns of those with alternate viewpoints, Charlottesville attracted the unwanted attention of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and the alt-Right, all of whom descended on the little college town with the intention of exercising their First Amendment right to be disagreeable, to assemble, and to protest.
When put to the test, Charlottesville did not handle things well at all.
No one—not the armed, violent, militant protesters nor the police—gave peace a chance, not on July 8 when the KKK descended, nor on August 12, when what should have been an exercise in free speech quickly became a brawl that left one dead and dozens more injured.
As the New York Times reported, “Protesters began to mace one another, throwing water bottles and urine-filled balloons — some of which hit reporters — and beating each other with flagpoles, clubs and makeshift weapons. Before long, the downtown area was a melee. People were ducking and covering with a constant stream of projectiles whizzing by our faces, and the air was filled with the sounds of fists and sticks against flesh.”
And then there was the police, who were supposed to uphold the law and prevent violence.
They failed to do either.
Indeed, a 220-page post-mortem of the protests and the Charlottesville government’s response by former U.S. attorney Timothy J. Heaphy merely corroborates our worst fears about what drives the government at all levels: power, money, ego, politics and ambition.
When presented with a situation in which the government and its agents were tasked with protecting free speech and safety, Heaphy concluded that “the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety.”
Heaphy continues: “The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech. This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions—the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community.”
In other words, the government failed to uphold its constitutional mandates. The police failed to carry out their duties as peace officers. And the citizens found themselves unable to trust either the police or the government to do its job in respecting their rights and ensuring their safety.
Despite the fact that 1,000 first responders (including 300 state police troopers and members of the National Guard)—many of whom had been preparing for the downtown rally for months—had been called on to work the event, despite the fact that police in riot gear surrounded Emancipation Park on three sides, and despite the fact that Charlottesville had had what reporter David Graham referred to as “a dress rehearsal of sorts” a month earlier when 30 members of the Ku Klux Klan were confronted by 1000 counterprotesters, police failed to do their jobs.
In fact, as the Washington Post reports, police “seemed to watch as groups beat each other with sticks and bludgeoned one another with shields… At one point, police appeared to retreat and then watch the beatings before eventually moving in to end the free-for-all, make arrests and tend to the injured.”
“Police Stood By As Mayhem Mounted in Charlottesville,” reported ProPublica.
Instead of establishing clear boundaries—buffer zones—between the warring groups and protecting the First Amendment rights of the protesters, police established two entrances into the permit areas of the park and created barriers “guiding rallygoers single-file into the park” past lines of white nationalists and antifa counterprotesters.
Incredibly, when the first signs of open violence broke out, Heaphy reports that the police chief allegedly instructed his staff to “let them fight, it will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”
Read Heaphy’s report for yourself.
It’s full of drama and intrigue, plots and dueling egos, petty tyrants and ambitious politicians. (There’s even mention of a personal email account and deleted text messages.)
Not much different from what is happening on the national scene.
Commissioned by the City of Charlottesville, this Heaphy report was intended to be an independent investigation of what went right and what went wrong in the government’s handling of the protests.
Heaphy found very little to commend.
What went right on Aug. 12 according to Heaphy: 1) Despite the presence of firearms, including members of the militia, and angry confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters, no person was shot and no significant property damage occurred; 2) Emergency personnel did their jobs effectively and treated a large number of people in a short period of time; and 3) Police intelligence gathering was thorough (that’s the best he had to say about police).
Now for what went wrong, according to the report:
1. Police failed to get input from other law enforcement agencies experienced in handling large protests.
2. Police failed to adequately train their officers in advance of the protest.
3. City officials failed to request assistance from outside agencies.
4. The City Council unduly interfered by ignoring legal advice, attempting to move the protesters elsewhere, and ignoring the concerns of law enforcement.
5. The city government failed to inform the public about their plans.
6. City officials were misguided in allowing weapons at the protest.
7. The police implemented a flawed operational plan that failed to protect public safety.
8. While police were provided with riot gear, they were never trained in how to use it, nor were they provided with any meaningful field training in how to deal with or de-escalate anticipated violence on the part of protesters.
9. Despite the input and advice of outside counsel, including The Rutherford Institute, the police failed to employ de-escalation tactics or establish clear barriers between warring factions of protesters.
10. Government officials and police leadership opted to advance their own agendas at the expense of constitutional rights and public safety.
11. For all intents and purposes, police abided by a stand down order that endangered the community and paved the way for civil unrest.
12. In failing to protect public safety, police and government officials undermined public faith in the government.
The Heaphy report focused on the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, but it applies to almost every branch of government that fails to serve “we the people.”
As the Pew Research Center revealed, public trust in the government remains near historic lows and with good reason, too.
This isn’t America, land of the free, where the government is “of the people, by the people [and] for the people.”
Rather, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is Amerika, where fascism, totalitarianism and militarism work hand in hand.
So what’s the answer?
As always, it must start with “we the people.”
I’ve always advised people to think nationally, but act locally. Yet as Charlottesville makes clear, it’s hard to make a difference locally when the local government is as deaf, dumb and blind to the needs of its constituents as the national government.
Still, it’s time to clean house at all levels of government.
You’ve got a better chance of making your displeasure seen and felt and heard within your own community. But it will take perseverance and unity and a commitment to finding common ground with your fellow citizens.
Stop tolerating corruption, graft, intolerance, greed, incompetence, ineptitude, militarism, lawlessness, ignorance, brutality, deceit, collusion, corpulence, bureaucracy, immorality, depravity, censorship, cruelty, violence, mediocrity, and tyranny.
Stop holding your nose in order to block out the stench of a rotting institution.
Stop letting the government and its agents treat you like a servant or a slave.
You’ve got rights. We’ve all got rights. This is our country. This is our government. No one can take it away from us unless we make it easy for them.
Right now, we’re making it way too easy for the police state to take over.
Stop being an accessory to the murder of the American republic.