Charlottesville, a city in Virginia, became synonymous with the white supremacy-based domestic terrorism on August 12, 2017, as hundreds of neo-Nazis at a “Unite the Right Rally” carried torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us” in an effort to protect a statue of General Robert E. Lee.
Met with counter-protestors, one of the rally’s supporters, James Fields, was convicted of murdering 32-year-old paralegal and counter-protestor Heather Heyer, by running her over with his Dodge Challenger and seriously injuring dozens of others in the process.
On Wednesday, August 12 at 9-11 p.m. ET/PT, Investigation Discovery will air a special, “Impact of Hate: Charlottesville,” focused on how the tragedy affected those survivors and the city in general.
Here’s how Heather Heyer’s mother, the city of Charlottesville, James Fields Jr., the “Unite the Right” and similar movements as well as the statue of Robert E. Lee have fared since the incident.
1. Heather Heyer’s Mother, Susan Bro, Has Continued To Keep Her Daughter’s Memory Alive
Mark Heyer, Heather’s father, said “Christ in (him)” drew him to publicly forgive Fields, while Bro also gave a statement, telling the court, “I would like to see (Fields) find meds that help heal his mind. I would like to see him grow from a white supremacist into someone who can help bring others away from white supremacy,” USA Today reported.
But Bro also did not want Fields to gain anything monetary from his murder of her daughter; although he is facing multiple life sentences, she sued him for $12 million in 2019 in case he ever signs book, movie or other deals that could make him money. “I want to make sure he doesn’t get rich off this,” she said. “I want to send a strong message to others who would try to murder people as an act of terror … that there are going to be serious consequences that are going to follow you,” she said, according to CNN.
Bro, according to the Daily Progress, quit her bookkeeper and secretary job in 2017 to run a foundation in Heyer’s name. Bro, along with Alfred Wilson, one of Heyer’s co-workers at the Miller Law Group where she worked, created the Heather Heyer Foundation. According to the article, it was the best way for Bro to heal from her daughter’s death, as she told a reporter, “This is how I make some sense of what happened to my kid.”
Despite the pandemic, the foundation has done well, Daily Progress reported Bro saying. “Everybody’s giving was down and, of course, the month of March just about tanked everybody, but our investments were wisely handled by our investment firm,” she said, according to the paper. “So we survived it, and donations are picking back up.” Since its inception, the foundation awarded 22 $1,000 scholarships to students far and wide who are involved in and/or started a social justice campaign.
More information about the foundation, which opens for applications in October, is available here.
2. The City of Charlottesville Still Struggles With Its Identity
In 2014, Charlottesville was named America’s happiest city by the Daily Progress. After 2017, it had a very different reputation.
In a report which outlined, among other things, what went wrong at the rally, it found that law enforcement had not operated under a unified command and had not kept media out of inappropriate places, those in charge of the operational plan had not created enough space for both rally-goers and counter-protestors, tear gas was used without the commanding officers’ authority and the city ignored instead of addressed criticism of the police response.
Charlottesville experienced upheaval in its political and police arenas following the events of the “Unite the Right” rally and Heyer’s murder. Nikuyah Walker, a former activist, became the city’s first Black woman to serve as mayor. According to the New York Times, “nearly every official who held power at the time has resigned or retired,” including the city attorney, police chief and city manager.
Just a year after the events of Charlottesville, the city was once again split between those who wanted to push past the events of the rally and those who wanted to reckon with them and their legacy: gentrification, a lack of affordable housing, stop-and-frisk policies and poor educational opportunities, as the Washington Post described.
3. James Fields Is Part Of A New Lawsuit
After killing Heather Heyer and injuring nearly 30 others, Fields – who pleaded guilty to 29 hate crimes – was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 2019, USA Today reported. He had already been convicted of murder by a Charlottesville jury and given a life sentence plus 419 years.
Fields’ name has also come back up in the news because lawyers from the Department of Justice have refused to provide community members with evidence they are requesting for a civil rights complaint. According to the Associated Press, Fields is named as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him and others of engaging in a violent conspiracy to violate counter-protestors’ rights.
One reason for that lawsuit, which is set to commence in October, is because the lawyers who brought it are alleging that Fields’ attack was part of a larger, violent plot. “The evidence in our case will show that Fields’s brazen attack was not only premeditated, it was celebrated after the fact by the other white supremacists who marched with Fields that day,” they wrote in a Bloomberg Law article.
4. Tactics From The “Unite The Right” Movement Have Continued To Be Used
According to the Southern Poverty Learning Center (SPLC), there was an increase in rallies, marches and protests led by groups associated with the Unite the Right movement, such as neo-Nazis, Klansmen and “alt-right.”
Richard Spencer, a University of Virginia graduate who was banned from the campus following the “Unite the Right” rally, had said following the events there, “We’re going to be back here, and we’re going to humiliate all of these people who opposed us. We’ll be back here 1,000 times if necessary. I always win. Because I have the will to win, I keep going until I win,” according to the SPLC. But although a Unite the Right rally was planned for 2018, it failed miserably, Vox reported. Outmatched by thousands of counter-protesters, less than 30 white nationalists ultimately showed up to march hours before the rally’s original start time.
There has been a long-lasting legacy of Fields’ actions, however. According to the New York Times, there have been dozens of protestors injured by intentional vehicular assaults – 66 such attacks since George Floyd was killed, according to Bloomberg Law.
5. Mayors Want Robert E. Lee’s Statue Removed
The rally was originally triggered by a desire to protect confederate statues and in particular, one of Robert E. Lee that the city council had announced it planned to remove. However, the events of Charlottesville did not inspire the statue’s removal as instead, the city’s focus was shifted to questions about its own history of racial justice.
According to BBC, the statue of Robert E. Lee was one of five statues of Confederate soldiers along Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Following the events of Minneapolis and the police killing of George Floyd, it was tagged with graffiti with messages to end police brutality and white supremacy. Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, was inspired to help remove an imposing statue of General Stonewall Jackson, Politico reported. Yet the fate of Lee would be different.
Echoing Robert E. Lee’s own words – “I think it best not to keep open the sores of war” – Governor Robert Northam announced that he was removing the statue June 4, 2020, BBC reported. However, actually doing so would depend on a decision from the Virginia Supreme Court, which is determining whether it will hear an appeal of the 2017 lawsuit brought to prevent the statue from being removed, Daily Progress reported.
As of August 9, the statue still stands, Politico reported.