Who Was at Charlottesville Opposing Nazis? An Interview with Brandon Collins
You were at Charlottesville 2 weeks ago. What was your role in the counterprotest?
I had dual roles. ONe was in my capacity with the Public Housing Association of Residents, the other as just me. For work I spent time advocating for greater safety measures to be taken, educating residents, speaking for our organization, and eventually setting up security teams for public housing neighborhoods and a hotline for residents to reach when in danger. On my own, I originally spent weeks training for aggressive non-violent direct action(s), preparing the rest of the community, sharing info with varous groups organizing, and hosting medics at our house for the weekend. The action we trained to do was called off late Friday night and I and Reagan were tasked with providing security for a group of clergy hosting Cornel West. From there, since our training and planning for direct action was all out the window we became part of general security for the entire weekend. We did wind up doing some direct action at points, but mainly we tried to keep people safe along with a crew of about 20 people. Our work paid off but it was pretty awful. Leading into the weekend a lot of different organizing was going on as well- we call it the “summer of hate” confronting whuite supremacists night after night, rally after rally, and meeting after meeting
Would you say you were well aware of the types of groups and individuals who were involved in organizing and participating in the protest?
absolutely, Reagan and I were in frequent contact with just about everybody. Charlottesville folks, despite their silos, wound up working together well as far as confrontation goes
What kinds of groups were involved, either specific names or a categorization of groups would be fine.
SURJ, Black Lives Matter, Congregate Cville, and our local anarchist folks were the main players, these groups were all assisted by ad hoc groups formed to provide intel and other supports. Eventually two coalitions kind of arised Solidarity Cville, and Congregate Cville and they both worked together hand in hand. Congregate was the clergy driven group, they brought in “Deep Abiding Love Project” to do a variety of trainings and set up infrastructure. The anarchists were tight lipped but shared info with certain folks as needed, they have done some solid work with me in the past and have been supportive of our efforts in public housing. They had the deepest connection with organized antifa groups A ton of outsiders showed up as well, the usual rabble (RCP etc.) but weren’t terribly useful. On the other hand, street medics brought in were super helpful and those were organized by small groups of outsiders mostly just showing up, but some coordinated with local folks
What would you say the involvement level was of folks or groups that would be aligned with the mainstream Democratic Party at this counterprotest?
the Democratic Party is strong in Charlottesville, and has consistently touted the “just ignore them” line since even before the Klan came. Since our City giv’t is all Democratic Party there is a fierce battle going on for years on getting them to do something about racism. A few exceptions for the weekend perhaps- we have seen some city councilors in the streets, mainly to bear witness. But no actual organizing for certain, and not even rhetorical support, its been pitiful. If you watch the last council meeting you can see why-, the public has been trying to get them to do something about this, show leadership, and protect people for months. At the July Klan rally the cops tear gassed counter protesters and there were many arrests. leading into it a number of good folks have been arrested confronting nazis on our downtown mall So yeah, fuck the democrats. Our Mayor is the biggest piece of shit among them, his “Capitol of the Resistance” bs is a widely consdiered to be a joke
So the mainstream Democrats had the attitude of Tina Fey with her now famous “sheetcaking” skit. Did you see involvement from the fringes of the Democratic Party, like Bernie Sanders supporters who believe they can still change the Democratic Party?
we have a large contingent of Bernie people (we call them the “Bernie People”) we formed a coalition here to challenge the Democrats mainly from the left, so some of those folks have been involved but mostly they are disgusted with local Democrats. A lot of SURJ folks and BLM have supported challengers in Democratic Primaries so its not like a clear cut thing. Certainly locally pretty much the entire town has lost faith in the DP.
sorry that read a little unclear- we have a policial coalition challenging the locla Democratic Party which includes some of the Bernie People.
I want to finish this line of questioning before moving on to some of the interesting things that this is already digging up. What would you say to people like Bill Maher who say that Charlottesville was liberals standing up to Nazis?
Charlottesville liberals are the epitome of crappy white liberals, they would rather do yoga, or have a music festival than get in the streets to defend the town. The liberals here wanted people to stand down, that it just gave them attention etc., so I’d say it was definitely not liberals standing up to nazis, it was progressives, anti-racists (SURJ has done a lot to get white people here radicalized), leftists, anarchists, and clergy that stood up- though- there was wide spread support and more than one concerned liberal has probably changed their views So no, not liberals standing up, rather it was the good folks of Charlottesville despite the urgings of the liberal leadership
Now you said that the cops had previously used tear gas on counterprotesters to the KKK marching in Charlottesville. Do you buy the mayor’s line that the cops didn’t have as good of equipment as the Nazis and that is why they didn’t get involved or do you think they intentionally stood down?
First- nobody buys the Mayor’s line on anything! The militias (3%s and other) were the ones with the intense big guns, they looked like military and their were certainly a lot of them. However, the City had tons of Virginia State Police armed to the hlt, mounted snipers, roit squads, assualt vehicles, and the national guard was here too. Local cops were mostly not present anywhere. I think with the militia no one was really sure where they stood until the nazis started beating people and antifa fought back. The nazis (the rally goers) were mainly armed visibly with sticks and bats and other shit, not a lot of open carrying
You said that you and your squad – I’m not sure of the exact size – were tasked with protecting Cornell West and the clergy. I heard him talk about this on Democracy Now and he suggested that they are alive today because of you. However, I didn’t catch a clear statement of what they were trying to accomplish besides getting arrested. What were they trying to accomplish?
The militia’s presence was intense, but they didn;t present the threat that the nazis did- so the cops weren’t really outgunned
The clergy group trained around 300 people for non-violent direct action, only a handful actually committed to the one big action that was attempted first, which was to keep nazis from entering the park, I think there woudl have been a larger push to get into the park had things been succesful. there were other instances of clergy standing up to riot cops as well as nazis
Its hard because I had been training for a different more dangerous action with BLM, which was later called off because we thought both cops and nazis might have thought we were doing something other than what we were gonna do
Is it alright for you to explain what you had planned with BLM now or is it something best undisclosed?
I think BLM folks prefer if their white supporters don;t speak for them, the idea though was to have folks get into the park – in hindsight we would have gotten our asses kicked or worse
Now, you saw violence come to a head in at least one instance. What was the process of it breaking out?
there was violence everywhere. Friday night was bad, we were stuck guarding the event at the church across the street from the torch rally. Our crew desperately wanted to help. Eventually we were able to get medics and help to the injured afterwards. Saturday it started early with nazis shoving folks etc, and eventually threatening the clergy group, thats when the large crowd on the street began to interact with the nazis, nazis got aggressive. they were massive group brawls. At one point a giant contingent of nazis marched on the crowd and then it got super bad, and then followed by another wave of nazis from behind. From there it was basically just fighting everywhere around downtown once the large groups broke up and the cops cleared the park. We also saw the tail end of residnts of Friendship Court (project based voucher housing) beating back nazis, from there we witnessed more nazis at Friendship Court and a large group of counter protesters began to march to intervene, it wasn;t needed so they turned back, that was the group that got hit in the car attack. violenece continued after the attack as well- it was everywhere. I did not, nor did anyone I know, once see police intervene in any violence