Monday, August 14, 2017

Terrorist Attack on Charlottesville Virginia

I'm sure you have heard that my city, Charlottesville, Virginia, was attacked by white nationalist terrorists on Saturday, August 12th.  I didn't attend the counter-protest. I'd been dithering about it, partly wanting to go, but also worried because the white supremacists coming to the rally had been bragging about violence. Friday when I got home from work, I impulsively climbed onto the porch roof and painted a resist sign. We live less than a mile from downtown and I wanted any nazis who might park their cars in my neighborhood to know that they were not welcome.

The evening before the rally, white supremacists gathered near the University of Virginia grounds for a torchlit march, which ended in violence when they encountered a group of anti-racist UVA students and attacked them, including throwing their lit torches at people. I even heard a claim on a news video that the nazis threw fuel on people and then threw their torches. I think I speak for many locals when I saw we feel protective of UVA students. It was monstrous that they should be attacked defending their college grounds.

Saturday, the rally was supposed to start at noon, but people started assembling around 9:00 am and quickly became violent. A friend of mine who was there says that the violence was in little, self-resolving bursts. Punches thrown, then a calm, then punches thrown somewhere else, followed by calm. The city declared a local state of emergency and unlawful assembly was declared before even the official start time of the rally. That clinched it for me and I didn't go. I thought it would be a bit of a jerk move to show up after unlawful assembly had been declared. So I stayed home, glued to my twitter feed, until the horrific terrorist attack.

To explain the scene for those of you who aren't local: downtown Charlottesville has a pedestrianized street with shops and restaurants. It's a popular destination for tourists and locals alike and is always crowded on summer weekends. Two streets are allowed to cross the pedestrian mall, although with speed bumps and multiple warnings to drive slowly and yield to pedestrians. After the rally dispersed, there were still many people downtown. A car, driving at full speed charged across the pedestrianized mall and crashed straight into the crowd. Witnesses say he then reversed and slammed into the crowd again. On the eyewitness video I saw, the car was driving so fast it was a blur. One local woman was killed, 32 year old Heather Heyer. Many others were injured, some critically. Jon had been leading a retreat for health care workers and many of the participants were paged to come into the hospital and help with the multi-casualty incident.

The driver of the vehicle was apprehended about a mile from the crash scene. It is confirmed that he was a white supremacist, Trump-supporter.  I had been horrified by similar vehicular terrorist attacks in Nice and London and the fact that it had happened here, in my own town, on a street I walk on frequently was too shocking to comprehend.  And then, perhaps an hour later, the state police helicopter that had been circling the event all day, crashed. Both officers on board were killed.  Never in my life have I been in a place that was actively under attack. Yes, I was safe in my house, and my neighborhood stayed peaceful, but it was horrifying. And an innocent woman was murdered by a terrorist. We won't forget that and we won't let it happen again.

Sunday afternoon, the rally organizer (a local blogger and embodiment of toxic white male culture) had the audacity to hold a press conference. I had this crazy idea that if I attended this conference I could maybe throw a tomato at him or something. Shocking, I know, but I was brimful with rage and I thought if I could just get an opportunity to get close and just maybe gently lob something on him because he needs to be marked with humiliation for what he invited to our town. But then I thought that a tomato would be too firm so I went to Wegmans and bought the biggest, messiest, chocolattiest cream doughtnut they had. I just thought, if the opportunity presented itself, I might clap it against his shirt or smoosh it into his face. I was totally serious about it, but I didn't get an opportunity because when I got to the press conference, there was a large crowd and I couldn't get anywhere near the man. I could barely see him. We all screamed SHAME at the top of our lungs and completely drowned him out. Then someone rushed the podium and punched him and he ran away and we all chased him. We literally chased him away and the riot police came rushing in and blocked the alley he'd run down. There was a standoff for a while but nothing much was happening, so I wandered away and left the bouquet I'd bought when I was buying my assault doughnut at the impromptu memorial for Heather Heyer.

A few pics from Sunday:

My own memorial for Heather
The memorial that sprung up on the spot where Heather Heyer was murdered.

That blue hat had a swastika on it, but every time I tried to take a picture he turned his head.

Riot police protect Jason Kessler's escape

These videos are straight from my instagram. It seems they don't show up if you are reading this in a feed. Sorry! The quality is so much better than if I put them on youtube, so that's why I do it this way.

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

It was incredibly cathartic to scream at this man. I think most people around me felt the same. We were so enraged and shocked at what happened in our community that we needed to scream. I screamed myself hoarse. People on social media called us thugs and said we were as bad as the nazis, but that is BS. Don't you DARE compare people venting their rage to terrorist murderers. I reject any claim that our behavior was bad in any way. Also, any argument about "both sides" or "violent leftists" is FALSE. This "But what about the leftists?" has become the new "But her emails." The white supremacists INVADED our town. In the weeks before the event, city council and local businesses worked together to find a way to legally prevent the rally without being guilty of a free speech violation. There was a lawsuit and a last-minute injunction by a judge saying that the rally had to be allowed to go on as planned, despite multiple claims of an expected crowd of thousands.

Sunday evening there was a vigil for Heather Heyer at the site of her death. Originally, it was to be held in a local church, but nazis threatened to attack it. Think about that. These hateful Trump supporters threatened to attack a peaceful vigil for the woman they murdered. But some republicans are trying to claim that the left is responsible for the violence. We gathered and lit candles and sang. State and local police were there to protect us from Trump's terrorists. It's always sad to hear about someone who was murdered, even if it's someone you don't know, but it's a different feeling when the murder was an intentional and vicious attack on your community. The community itself is an additional victim. This is something I hadn't realized. I would also like to thank all the people around the country who held their own vigils and rallies in support of Charlottesville.

The vigil for Heather Heyer on Sunday evening

And finally, this morning, as Phoebe and I took our pre-dawn walk, we saw a memorial of white paper luminaries that had appeared overnight in our park. The park itself, with its hilltop location, groves of ancient oaks, and the worn-down stones of a mountain range older than human memory, has always felt like a sacred space and the memorial was like a tiny paper Stonehenge, there in the dark (and literally at the intersections of Druid and Stonehenge Avenues).


  1. What a horrible, horrible weekend. I've developed a charming stress rash which is small potatoes compared to the violence and murder in our town. And I dread those assholes coming back for more.

  2. I was hoping someone would throw tomatoes at him yesterday. Apparently he was tackled by a woman outside of city hall. I know my husband felt better after yelling down there yesterday.

    I saw nazis at McIntire Park Saturday morning - hundreds of them assembling. I was walking the dog, who quickly decided to book it on home. There were neighbor reports of rogue bands of them moving through the neighborhood Saturday and we found evidence leading us to believe they were hanging out in the woods behind Greenleaf Park and Walker School Saturday. When I found that out, I suddenly understood why my dog avoided the woods that morning - that's our usual go-to and I thought it weird she avoided it. She knew.

    Mostly though, I think we're still in shock and mourning.

  3. Longtime reader (and met you once in person) de-lurking to let you know my thoughts and prayers are with you. ~annie

  4. Thank you for posting this account. I don't know what to say. I appreciate all the good people of Charlottesville. I appreciate you. I'm sorry you have had to go through this. I went to a vigil last night in Pittsburgh.

  5. Thank you for writing this and thank you for doing what you did. I have marched against a couple of neo nazi events here in Germany and it always takes some time to get that ugly taste and that horrific feeling of anger out of my system (and here it is illegal to do the raised arm thing and to show the obvious symbols etc.). Be watchful, stay alert.

  6. I don't even know how enraged you must have felt having these loathsome creatures slither into your town. I love your courage to stand up and tell them they are not welcome, but I feel so sad that a) it had to happen at all and b) your beautiful city is now stained by this awful event and Heather's murder.
    I don't know if I could have kept my shit together, either. I believe it IS necessary to violently stomp out hatred, and that is not the equivalent of hatred itself.

  7. I've been reading back through your accounts to this one, and while I had heard from clergy who had been surrounded inside that church, I had not heard from anyone who was there in town as a resident. Truly this was terror (not that I doubted it, but you have confirmed it) and I am horrified and sorry this happened in your town to YOU and others. Thank you for telling us what really happened in C'ville. I will continue to make noise from the other side of the country. Anger and resistance is the only response I can imagine.