The turnout of white nationalists that sparked violence in Charlottesville, Va., this weekend reflects an alarming level of cooperation among disparate hate groups to gain mainstream media attention. That’s the view of an expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Ala.-based civil rights org that has tracked the activities of white supremacist groups since the early 1980s.
Keegan Hankes, a research analyst for the SPLC, said the Charlottesville gatherings on Friday night and Saturday morning were heavily promoted in a months-long organizing campaign via social media by multiple white nationalist organizations in a bid to demonstrate a show of force in numbers. The effort not surprisingly brought out counter-protesters from leftist organizations, including those identifying with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as clergy and others who tried to advocate for non-violent protest.
The timing of the rally dubbed “Unite the Right” was pegged to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, which was the site of violent clashes Saturday between protesters, counter-protesters, and police. But the real agenda, according to Hankes, was to garner mainstream media coverage as a recruitment tool.
The violence that erupted between various factions of protesters will be selectively mined for images to portray white nationalists as under attack from violent leftists and the police, Hankes said.
“The whole thing has been orchestrated around trying to get media attention,” Hankes told Variety. “They used the controversy around the Lee statue as a peg but what you really have is all these little hate groups competing in the same space trying to make a name for themselves. They’ll use media coverage and strategically controlled images (from the gathering) to bring in new members.”
Among the most prominent groups represented at the rally were organizations that have…