Filed under: Anti-fascist, Editorials, The State, US
The following report was written by someone affected by the fascist violence in Charlottesville last year, and has since reached out to It’s Going Down to have their story published. Before publishing this piece, we reached out to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) via Twitter for comment, of which we got no reply. We also asked members of the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the DSA about this situation, and they replied that the funds were in a similar situation as described in the text below.
In the early summer of 2017 Charlottesville, VA became a hotspot for white supremacists actions. Their claims were that this was a response to the debate surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments and so-called “free speech,” but we all know this to be false beyond a shadow of a doubt. The intention was and has been to use the tools of liberalism to organize white supremacist factions, terrorize communities, and normalize their discourse. For many in Charlottesville the lead up to white supremacists rallying around Richard Spencer taking to the streets with tiki torches on May 13th, 2017 was long and arduous. For others their involvement began that evening. They arrived suddenly, organized fast enough to have pictures taken, and disappeared just as quickly. With the energy that was building from their actions, Jason Kessler decided to host the now internationally known “Unite the Right.”
As anti-fascist and anti-racist activists were bracing for whatever could come from this, there were about 200 people that were awaiting court cases after mass arrests in Washington DC on January 20th, 2017. These comrades were arrested during the protests of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and most of those arrested were being threatened with 80 years of imprisonment. Their charges were based on the fact that they were in the confines of the police kettle that was established and they were processed and jailed until they could be bailed out. This is important because it sets the tone for the distrust that follows.
The closer it got to August 11th and 12th, 2017, the more it was apparent that the Unite the Right rally was a focal point for police interests. Local jurisdictions appeared to be in contact with Jason Kessler and trusting that the information he provided them was a true representation of what would soon play out. When a small group of anti-fascist and anti-racist activists were surrounded at the base of the Jefferson statue on UVA grounds by hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us,” a brawl broke out.
Many individuals were injured that night. Many were sprayed with mace and/or pepper spray, many were covered with the fuel of those tiki torches and risked being burned alive. The police stood by and watched. During the events of August 12th, 2017, as we all know from eyewitness accounts, video accounts, and the Heaphy Report, the police refused to protect anyone that day. Many people were beaten. Many people were covered in caustic acid. Many people had objects hurled at them. Many people put their lives on the line to send a message that white supremacists will not organize and terrorize Charlottesville unchallenged. One would like to believe that protesting white supremacy, racism, and hate is something that most people with a good conscious and the ability to do would do.
We all know how that day ended, and there is no need to describe that trauma again. Many of us, myself counted among them, cannot and never will watch a video of that incident.
“For a long time there was a lot of question as to how those relief funds should be disbursed. As weeks passed I learned that DSA National had seized control of these funds and was uncertain of how to proceed.”
Immediately following the mass casualty and the murder of Heather Heyer a member of the Anchorage chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America started a GoFundMe account. This fundraiser saw success beyond what any of us could have imagined. And this is where the second stage of our trauma begins.
For a long time there was a lot of question as to how those relief funds should be disbursed. It is my understanding that local chapters would have preferred the funds be transferred to them and distributed locally, to known victims. I believe that this was not an unreasonable request. As weeks passed I learned that DSA National had seized control of these funds and was uncertain of how to proceed. People repeatedly attempted to reach out to DSA through different social media accounts and never received a response. I later learned that DSA decided that the best course of action was to transfer the funds to the National Compassion Fund.
After months of waiting it was announced that the National Compassion Fund would be accepting applications for requests of funds. Many victims were uncomfortable because of potential association between NCF and the federal government (see above). Leading up to the application process some comrades were being sought by the FBI and concerns of anti-fascist and anti-racist activists being subpoenaed to a Grand Jury were legitimate. There seemed to be little that could be done to alleviate the concerns of NCF’s involvement, and many comrades refused to apply for funds due to that.
As we know, on August 12th, 2017 around 19 individuals reported that they were physically injured by James Fields, and we can assume that not everyone injured reported their injuries. Many, many more were psychologically traumatized by his actions. The first roadblock for the application process was a requirement to document that mental health care had been acquired after the incident. Luckily, for a lot of people, there was a network of LCSWs in the Central Virginia region that volunteered their time to help victims. Still, many people did not reach out and seek this help.
Personally, I waited over a month because I felt as though I was handling the trauma and didn’t want to use resources that others may have needed. Some may have decided to go without because of a valid distrust of the mental health industry. Some may have self medicated with drugs and alcohol. Others completely isolated themselves from their friends and support networks. The requirement that one must have proof that they received what the NCF and/or National Center for Victims of Crime decided was the one and only acceptable form of coping excluded many people from being eligible for future help.
After the application process closed a National Center for Victims of Crime representative reached out to me, informing me that I had failed to submit a HIPAA release form. I intentionally did not send this form in because there was a part of the form that authorized future use of the form, and I was uncomfortable with anyone having what I perceived as open and unrestricted access to my information. I informed him that I would only submit the HIPAA form after striking the lines that I did not agree. The representative was in agreement with that.
March turned into April. April 2nd was the published date that funds would be disbursed. There, however, were no updates when funds were not disbursed, aside from the occasional comrade reporting that they had emailed the representative and were given vague responses that it would be soon. April turned into May, and May to June. Uncertain as to whether or not I had been approved, I reached out to the NCVC representative. He was able to confirm that I was approved, but when asked what timeline would be reasonable to expect funds to be released I was met with silence.
On June 12th, 2018 I received an email from the NCVC representative that was obviously drafted for a large audience, and the intention was to inform me that my claim had been approved. The representative told me that there were others that still were in limbo and that all claims have to be fully processed before funds can be released. Upon reviewing this email I noticed that I was included as a blind carbon copy, and there was a name as the main recipient that I was unfamiliar with. I first reached out to this person, asking them if they were an affiliate of NCVC, and their response was “I’m sorry, who are you?” This seemed to be a pretty good indicator that something was wrong.
The following day I started reaching out to the representative, attempting to understand what had happened. My concerns were initially for the individual that was recklessly put at risk, and second, whether or not he had made other mistakes that I was unaware of that could have put me or others at risk. My inquiries were met with denial, then the attitude of “I have done nothing but provide a helping in the process from the beginning (when you were missing documents).” After his responses, which were full of spelling errors and in which he lies, he followed up by telling me “there is nothing for you to be worried about as far as trusting us goes”. After months of zero transparency, struggling to receive answers, and knowing that I was being lied to, I could not believe I was being told I should blindly trust this organization. I’m not sure what can be done now, I don’t see any way that NCVC can fix what has happened. If I knew in March what I know now, I never would have applied.
The labor and trauma of interacting with NCVC is not worth the financial payoff that will come in the end. Knowing that I emailed a fellow victim to inform them that their information has been compromised upsets me immensely. I can’t begin to imagine the additional trauma and stress that this has placed on the individual that received that email. If I hadn’t, would they have ever been informed?
As I draft this, the Committee that was formed to see this process through, made of many community members, has been very receptive and apologetic for the breach of confidentiality that happened, and the lack of respect and dignity that the NCVC representative has shown at least one victim.
They have acknowledged that there has been zero transparency throughout this process and that now, however late it may be, they need to improve on communicating.