HOUSTON — Bystander and victim videos of racist attacks have gone viral this month, particularly after President Trump’s Fourth of July address at Mt. Rushmore.
Some of the perpetrators — including a Silicon Valley CEO — cited Trump, while others appeared emboldened by the president’s rhetoric and tweets, which included his retweet of a supporter chanting “white power” and his own condemnation of Black Lives Matter as “a symbol of hate.”
Several of the videos showed attackers driving cars into crowds of protesters, resulting in memes that circulated widely online among opponents of the protests. The videos were an eerie reminder of a fatal attack by a driver on counterprotesters at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
One of the recent incidents followed the attempted lynching of a Black man near Bloomington, Ind., which was being investigated by the FBI this week as a hate crime.
We’re in the midst of a historical moment akin to the backlash by white supremacists following desegregation and emancipation, said Alexis Hoag, inaugural practitioner-in-residence at the Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative for Civil and Political Rights at Columbia University in New York.
“It’s being filmed; it’s happening more often. Given the outspoken protests across the country and around the world in support of Black Lives Matter, what we’re witnessing is this very violent backlash by people who harbor white supremacist views,” said Hoag, a lecturer at Columbia Law School who has spent more than a decade as a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer.
Hoag said it was “no coincidence that these incidents are clustered around July 4th.” She quoted a speech delivered on the holiday in 1852 by Frederick Douglass — the famed author, abolitionist and former slave — about the relative significance of the holiday to white citizens versus Black people.
“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me,” Douglass said. “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
For Black Americans, true independence came only with emancipation. In some states like Texas, even that took years, leading to the celebration of a separate holiday: Juneteenth.
Hoag said it’s also not a coincidence that the incidents followed Trump’s appearance at Mt. Rushmore, noting he also chose to stage his first campaign rally the day after Juneteenth in Tulsa, Okla., site of a 1921 racist massacre in the once thriving “Black Wall Street.”
“So much of what’s happening in 2020 is reminiscent of the past,” said Hoag, a Southern California native who has also lived in Tennessee. “It’s happening across the country with equal force. These are definitely not isolated to the ‘flyover states.’”
Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher at the New York-based nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, has focused on vehicular attacks on protesters in recent months.
“These vehicle rammings have become a more common tactic being used against protesters in general,” he said, including those attributed to the far right. “There has been quite a bit of online propaganda over the past few years and increasing over the past few months targeting protesters — and Black Lives Matter in particular — and really seeking to dehumanize the protesters and delegitimize their causes.”
Lipowsky said the motives for some of the incidents have been unclear: Perhaps a driver accelerated at protesters accidentally, or was confronted by protesters. But he said the message is clear in memes of such rammings that he’s collected, dating back to anti-police-brutality protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014.
“The message being put forward with a lot of these memes is that the protesters are inconveniencing your lives,” he said, and that “you have the right then to remove that impediment.”
Here are a few recent examples of people lashing out, verbally or physically attacking others.
Two protesters hit by car at anti-racism protest in Bloomington, Indiana
Vauhxx Booker, 35, a Bloomington, Ind., civil rights activist, posted cellphone video he said showed a group of white men who had assaulted him and threatened to “get a noose” at a nearby lake over the Fourth of July weekend.
The incident led dozens of supporters to peacefully protest in front of the Bloomington courthouse Monday, where video showed a car striking and injuring two demonstrators.
On Wednesday, police charged Christi Bennett, 66, of Greenfield, Ind., with criminal recklessness and leaving the scene of an accident in connection with the attack.
The FBI is investigating the attack on Booker as a potential hate crime. Through his attorney Katharine Liell, Booker said Tuesday, “We welcome this inquiry and feel we are one step closer to justice.”
Two women hit by car on Seattle highway closed amid protests
Seattle prosecutors on Wednesday filed three felony charges against Dawit Kelete in connection with a Saturday attack on a freeway that was closed for Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Kelete, 27, was charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving after he allegedly drove around vehicles parked on Interstate 5 to protect the protesters, hitting two of them.
Summer Taylor, 24, died later that night. Diaz Love, 32, was hospitalized with leg and arm fractures and internal injuries. In a note posted on Facebook late Sunday, Love reported being “alive and stable.”
“In a lot of pain. I cannot believe Summer was murdered,” the post said. “If they thought this murder would make us back down, they are very wrong. Very wrong.”
The local sheriff’s office later announced that Officer Mike Brown — a cousin of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — had been placed on administrative leave after posting a picture of a vehicle hitting someone, labeled “All Lives Splatter.”
Inslee condemned his cousin’s post, telling reporters, “It’s never acceptable, but particularly now when we’re trying to heal the divisions in our community between police and citizens.”
A person drives an SUV through Times Square where Black Lives Matter protesters gathered
In New York, officials in Suffolk County this week charged a driver in connection with driving into a Black Lives Matter protest on Monday and striking two people. Police said the driver, Anthony Cambareri, 36, fled the scene, but was caught soon after and charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
New York City police also detained a man who drove through a Black Lives Matter protest near Times Square on Tuesday night, but no one was injured in the incident, and the man was later released without being charged.
A white California couple were charged with a hate crime Tuesday after they were caught on video defacing a city-permitted Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez on the Fourth of July. The mural was in response to fliers circulated in the Bay Area city promoting white supremacy a few days earlier.
Nicole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, were seen painting over the yellow mural with black paint, the Contra Costa district attorney’s office said in a statement. In the video, Nelson says, “There is no racism. It’s a leftist lie,” and, “No one wants Black Lives Matter here.”
When a woman off-camera says, “What’s wrong with you?” Nelson says, “We’re sick of this narrative, that’s what’s wrong. The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie.”
Nelson was wearing a red Trump 2020 shirt and hat and yelled on camera, “Make America great again!”
Methodist minister Trent Somes, 22, was surrounded by armed militia members when he visited his ancestor’s grave at Gettysburg on the Fourth of July in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. Somes, who is white, posted video of about 50 men who surrounded him, describing them as “armed white supremacists.”
“I was screamed at, liquids were poured on me, and my life was threatened — all because I wore a shirt with the words ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER,’” he wrote in a post accompanying the video on YouTube. He wrote that he left escorted by Homeland Security and National Park Service staff, “after they said my life was in jeopardy.”
“Anyone who says white supremacy doesn’t exist, please watch this and listen to what they’re saying,” Somes wrote.
A Tennessee woman was fired from a local eye clinic this week after she was caught on two videos making racist and homophobic slurs against protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally last weekend.
In the videos, filmed at a weekend protest in an Elizabethtown, Tenn., park, Sonya Holt, who is white, can be seen yelling, “White lives matter! White lives are better!” and condemning a protester for being gay, saying he was “going to burn in hell.” A man standing next to Holt added, “We should have kept you ... slaves, that’s what we should’ve done.”
One of the videos was filmed by Sierra Gilmer, 16, who is a Black board member of the group that organized the protest, New Generation Freedom Fighters.
Holt later apologized for some but not all of her comments in an interview with local television station WJHL, but said she was provoked by a gay protester calling her “KKK Karen” (which was not on the video), and insisted, “I’m not racist at all.”
“I have Black friends. I have Black relatives in my family. The reason that I was angry is because I was being accused of being in the Ku Klux Klan, which I would never in my life be a part of. I think that’s horrible,” Holt said.
“As far as me saying, ‘White lives matter, white lives are better,’ I was repeating what not all of them, but some of the Black Lives Matter group were saying: ‘Black Lives Matter, Black lives are better.’ I was just repeating what they were saying. I just changed it from Black to white, because I wanted them to see how hurtful that sounded,” she added.
“After you’ve been ridiculed and called names over and over and over, you do tend to lash out, and I do apologize for that. That’s no excuse. I’m a grown woman. I know better.”