When hundreds of far-right protesters gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia last week, it was ostensibly to protect the planned removal of a Confederate monument. They were also out to assert themselves on the public stage, in front of the news cameras.
Given that the Robert E. Lee monument in question harkens back to the era of slavery in the US, a potent message was being sent. They were met with force that didn’t come from the police. And when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing one and injuring many more, the recriminations were swift.
One of the so-called news sites that has been incubating far-right culture – a favourite of white supremacists, The Daily Stormer, was dumped by its online hosts for its toxic take on what happened in Charlottesville.
But that will hardly shake the confidence of the movement, not with the mixed, coded messaging coming out of President Donald Trump’s White House.
Some of the president’s comments had voices in the white power movement rejoicing.
“The response of Trump to say that ‘we’re seeing hatred on many sides’ is really conspicuous and I think that people on the right are saying ‘We got away with it,’ says Shuja Haider, editor of Viewpoint Magazine.
Trump waited another 48 hours to condemn racism.
“Everyone heard that silence as an unwillingness to call out white supremacy and Nazism by name,” explains Andrew Marantz, contributing editor for The New Yorker. “I think that the neo-Nazis heard it that way. I think that the far left heard it that way. I think Republican senators heard it that way.”
Like many politicians, Donald Trump leaves much open to interpretation.
And for all his bluntness, all the hectic, late-night tweeting, Trump is more skilled at using coded messaging – what’s known as dog whistling. It all started with his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”, which is seen by some as a rallying cry for a return to a different America, a whiter one.
“Dog whistle politics is just that. An attempt to convey racialised sentiments without using actual racialised language,” says Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami.
“One of the reasons these coded dog whistles are so effective is because while they reach the extremists that they’re targeted towards, they kind of escape detection by most people,” adds Haidar.
The showdown in Charlottesville took many Americans by surprise. But should it have?
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