Hate Group Experts Knew Charlottesville Would Be Trouble — And The Danger Continues

The terror and tragedy of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 didn’t come out of nowhere, experts Peter Simi and Oren Segal warn in “Uncovered: Killed By Hate.” 

By Erik Hawkins

When white nationalist, white supremacist, right-wing and neo-Nazi groups descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — ostensibly to defend a Confederate statue from being removed — much of the country was shocked. That shock turned to horror, when James Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd protesting the white supremacists, killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer. 

Among those who were not shocked was Peter Simi, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Chapman University. An expert on hate groups, Simi is featured this weekend on Oxygen’s two-hour special “Uncovered: Killed By Hate,” airing Sunday at 7/6c. 

Simi said he heard a lot of people looking at the array of racist and neo-Nazi groups spreading their message proudly in broad daylight and asking, “Where did this come from?” 

“That surprise I find interesting,” he said in a Chapman University blog post last year. “It’s clear that our awareness has been deficient, because they’ve been around all along. We just weren’t paying attention.” 

Or, as attorney and “Killed By Hate” host Laura Coates says, “People weren’t shocked that the sentiments existed. Just that people had become so emboldened that … they shouted in plain sight.” 

Part of the reason they were able to bring hate into plain sight is that extremist groups like those that converged at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville have become “adept” at using so-called “wedge issues” to force their voices into the national conversation — and build support that can easily turn into brutal violence, Simi says on “Killed By Hate.” 

Susan Bro Ap

Immigration, Muslims in the United States and the removal of Confederate-era statues — extremist groups know people have strong feelings around these issues, according to Simi, and they use them to mobilize, often ending in violence, like on Aug. 12, 2017. 

“Tragic as the violence was, it’s not surprising,” Simi told “Killed By Hate.” 

Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, also shared his perspective with “Killed By Hate,” warning that right-wing extremist groups have been “organizing in ways we haven’t seen before,” and their adeptness with social media is making their toxic, hateful ideas surface in public discussion.  

He said “all signs” were pointing toward trouble in Charlottesville, and although there have been prosecutions since, and more public warnings about the dangers of extremism, people shouldn’t be complacent, and should educate themselves on hate groups. 

“We can’t be lulled into a false sense of security,” Segal said. 

Don’t miss the powerful two-hour special “Uncovered: Killed By Hate” Sunday at 7/6c on Oxygen, where you’ll hear the harrowing stories of some of the worst hate crimes in recent memory, and survivors and families’ warnings for us today about the danger of hate. 

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