Leon Neyfakh in Slate:
Over the past few days, a short documentary film about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend has become a viral phenomenon. Produced by HBO’s Vice News Tonight and hosted by journalist Elle Reeve, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” is restrained and understated. But viewed in light of Donald Trump’s repeated defense of white nationalist protesters, it decisively punctures the cloud of moral equivocation that’s been so petulantly conjured over the past several days by the president. Whereas Trump thinks the events of the weekend should be considered in myopic isolation—tallying up the number of blows that were landed by each of the “two sides” and assigning blame accordingly—the Vice documentary vividly shows that the white nationalists who came to Charlottesville did so in ravenous pursuit of violence. It was the whole point of “Unite the Right,” not an unfortunate side effect. Violence was the reason these people showed up, and it provided the animating logic that held together their otherwise incoherent ideas.
The first glimpse of this can be seen during the Vice doc’s bracing first scene, shot on Friday night on the campus of the University of Virginia. Against a pitch-black sky, hundreds of young white men—and a few women—march in formation while holding torches, many of them chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “White lives matter,” and the Nazi-era slogan “blood and soil.” They look enraged and determined, and also like people you wouldn’t know were white supremacists if you saw them in the street. These are the people Trump said were “very fine,” were “protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” and “were there to innocently protest.” At one point Vice’s camera appears to capture one of these protesters using a torch to assault someone. (One counterprotester, Tyler Magill, suffered a stroke a couple days later apparently due to complications from injuries sustained during Friday night’s events.) At another point one white nationalist lunges at another in jubilation, sharply extending his hand and barreling into his comrade in a sort of cannonball bro hug. He puts all his muscle and all his aggression into this maneuver. Even the camaraderie between these men is violent.