On Friday night, ahead of tonight’s planned rally, members of the alt-right and white supremacist groups marched through the streets of Charlottesville, VA carrying torches and chanting slogans steeped in the history of bigotry. “Blood and soil,” a Nazi ideology of so-called purity based on ethnicity and national origin, “Jews shall not replace us,” and “white lives matter” were among their rallying cries. They are protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Some counter-protesters clashed with the white supremacists near a statue of Thomas Jefferson, but many remained in a peaceful prayer vigil at St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church. Clergy from many different faiths and from across the nation were present, answering a call from the bishops of the Diocese of Virginia. For some time, the white supremacists surrounded the church, but they were eventually disbanded by police for unlawful assembly. Traci Blackmon, a United Church of Christ minister tweeted that the police weren’t letting people inside the church go out for their own safety.
Rev. Winnie Varghese asked those gathered in the church to invoke in prayer “those upon whose shoulders you stand today, those whose footsteps you follow.” “Let’s take that Love to the streets,” she said in the conclusion of her prayer. Dr. Cornel West spoke this morning at First Baptist Church, saying, this would be the “biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last 30 to 35 years.” He cited Virginia as having “a long history of racism and fighting racism.”
Video from Sojourners of silent marchers in Charlottesville
The Diocese of Virginia added that all clergy are currently safe, and said they would continue to bring updates to their Facebook page.
Charlottesville is a majority progressive city, and the mayor, Mike Signer, said in a Facebook post that he was “beyond disgusted” with this display “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance” on the part of the alt-right protesters. Many felt that the torches were reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan, and Rev. Seth Wispelwey of the local United Church of Christ said “White supremacists rallying in our town is an act of violence.”
In her Final Charge during last night’s prayer service, Lisa Sharon Harper said,
“Oh, God, cut darkness tomorrow, Lord!
Hover over us tomorrow, Lord!
Be with us like you were with the priests who exited the exile!
Blow your holy spirit over us, holy God!
And remind us of your faithfulness to our ancestors!
Walk with us Lord and let.there.be.light!
Saturday afternoon the bishops and clergy gathered at Trinity Episcopal:
— Diocese of VA (@TheDioceseVA) August 12, 2017