Here it is — we have it now — the defining moment of this bizarro, alternate reality we’re living in today.
The black man who was surrounded in a Charlottesville parking garage by white supremacists during the heinous “Unite the Right” rally and beaten bloody — you saw the horrifying video, everyone did — is now facing a felony charge from that incident.
How crazy is that?
It’s true that, in the video, DeAndre Harris swung a flashlight at a white supremacist trying to spear a counterprotester with the pole of a Confederate flag. But within seconds, he was kicked the ground by a group of at least five white supremacists, who pummeled the 20-year-old with sticks and and a large board.
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Somehow, in our new kingdom of Cruelsville, a guy who winds up with a spinal injury and 10 stitches in his head gets charged with unlawful wounding - a similar crime to the one his three attackers are facing.
Should we suspend the California wine country kids who didn’t show up for classes at their burned-out school? Or ticket the cars swept away in Houston’s flood?
Why not? The parents of Tamir Rice received a $500 bill for his ambulance ride after Cleveland police killed him in a park three years ago. (To his credit, the mayor quickly apologized and canceled the bill after it made news.)
In this strange world, victims are guilty, facts are alternative and no one can feel safe. (Need more evidence of the world turned upside? Rush Limbaugh just said that President Donald Trump’s comments are “starting to make me nervous.” Which is actually making me nervous.)
Harris had to turn himself in to authorities on Thursday, thanks to a cunning runaround by white nationalists who figured out that in Virginia, an alleged crime victim can generate a warrant through a local magistrate after a police report has been filed.
And as Black Lives Matter activists worked to help identify Harris’ attackers in the video and share that information with police, the white power people decided to make Harold Ray Crews the victim.
Crews describes himself on Twitter as an attorney and a “Southern nationalist.” He also runs the North Carolina chapter of the League of the South, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which considers it a hate group.
Harris’ attorney, Lee Merritt, told The Washington Post that Harris did not injure Crews in the melee and that the charge against him is unjustified.
“We find it highly offensive and upsetting,” Merritt said, “but what’s more jarring is that he’s been charged with the same crime as the men who attacked him.”
How can this be happening?
It’s the new, Fake Reality, the culture of Alternative Facts, the world in which white men, who hold the majority of the nation’s wealth, congressional seats, judgeships, CEO spots and gun licenses, stage a protest to chant about being replaced.
The white supremacists and neo-Nazis returned to Charlottesville again on Saturday, carrying their torches and bearing their hatred.
The violence and racial enmity they’ve unleashed in our country feels like an extension of the presidential campaign we endured last year. Remember when candidate Trump promised to pay the legal fees for supporters “who knock the crap out of” protesters from Black Lives Matter and other groups, then wished aloud that he had been closer to a protester being escorted from one of his rallies so that he could “punch him in the face.”
During the campaign last year, I wrote about the Trump Effect, when children listening to the ugly rhetoric also hurled hateful phrases like “build that wall” at immigrant and minority kids.
For all of Trump’s dangerous declarations since he took office — provoking North Korea, trashing freedom of speech, threatening opponents — it has been possible to believe others will protect us from the president’s worst impulses.
Many of Trump’s supporters brush his words off as mere bluster. Some political moderates remind us that the nation has survived worse. Even lawmakers have convinced themselves that experienced men like Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis will keep America from slipping into chaos or nuclear war.
But what has happened in Charlottesville — the gathering of this country’s worst bigots, the killing of a counterprotester by a Nazi sympathizer, and now the deliberate manipulation of the judicial system by a hate group — points to a darker outcome.
Charlottesville is the Trump Effect, Adult Edition. And we will be living with the consequences of the vitriol and violence captured in that parking garage video for years to come.