Schoeneman: In Charlottesville, the Tragic Impact of Political Theater

The weekend events in Charlottesville are on everyone’s minds:

The tragic events of the past weekend in Charlottesville, which left one young woman and two police officers dead, are the result of poorly thought-out and amateurishly staged political theater. While there is plenty of blame to go around, and the finger-pointing has only just begun, one thing is certain: All of this could have been averted by elected officials behaving responsibly.

The bloodshed in Charlottesville has illuminated the dark underbelly of white nationalism that has been festering across the country for years now. Yet what isn’t as obvious, at least so far, is the role that substituting political theater for policymaking and grandstanding for governing have played in this tragedy.

All of this began with a debate about the future of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville — a debate that was essentially over as soon as it began. After the horrendous church shooting in Charleston in 2015, nationwide arguments over Confederate symbology began, and those arguments continue to this day. Yet in Virginia, these discussions and debates could only remain rhetorical; Virginia law has, since at least 1950, protected the status of war memorials, including both Union and Confederate memorials. That law was clarified in 1998 by the General Assembly to make explicitly clear the status of those monuments under state law: They cannot be removed by the authorities of any locality.

Read the rest of Brian Schoeneman’s column at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  • JWS

    Mr. Schoenman, should the Greensboro students have acceded to the vote of the North Carolina legislature? Should Dr. King have sat down and shut up and surrendered to the Alabama legislature?

    As you probably know, The National Review (which I grew up reading when it was Bill Buckley’s) has called for the removal of Confederate statues from pubic squares. As a grandson of a life-member of the UDC, I (maybe for once) agree with The National Review.

    • Biscuit

      Grand standing is an equal opportunity offender and blind to party affliation. There were protests to the US involvement in WWII. Will we soon have to blow up those monuments over some perceived slight to some yet unknown group of victims who were not even present on the earth when the conflict happened?

    • Yes to the Greensboro students. As for Dr. King, his protests were non-violent. He wasn’t suggesting that supporters go out and attack the Klan – they were the ones being attacked, including by the police. Those images helped turned the tide. It was the non-violence of the protesters that gave them the moral high ground, and it was because they worked through lawful means, through the courts and eventually through Congress, to get what they wanted done.

      That’s the right way to do it.

      Playing games with monuments as if that is going to make an ounce of difference when it comes to race relations is just politics as usual. It’s political theater.

      • JWS

        How were the Greensboro students who began the sit-ins at Woolworth’s in 1960 different from Dr. King?

        • I thought you were referring to the students who knocked down a monument the other day.

  • Nice job by Brian of showing the direct path of legislative show votes and political grandstanding that resulted in a loss of life this weekend.

    Unfortunately, this will not be the end.

    Coming to a Capitol Square near you, under the watchful gaze of Traveler and Gen. Lee, there will be a bill to repeal the war memorial statute and the subsequent demonstrations will make Charlottesville seem like child’s play.

    The reckless rhetoric that is sure to emerge will not be unifying – but will be intentionally divisive for cheap, and short-lived, political points (or fundraising efforts).

    I hope I’m wrong.

    • MD Russ

      Unfortunately, you are very rarely wrong, Jim. The political grandstanding by Donald Trump that got him elected President, effectively aided by a clueless Democratic Party who insisted on nominating a totally unelectable candidate, has provided an important object lesson to all the pandering media whores who have discovered a bonanza of racism running just below the surface of the American political psyche. The nonsense that got people injured and killed this past weekend in Charlottesville is just beginning.

    • JayD

      No bill, J.R.
      This will go thru the courts.
      Interesting … 2 of BD’s best minds conclude debate over Civil War statues led to deaths. Wow.

  • David Obermark

    OK, the alt-right and the alt-left struck blows against each other in Charlottesville. It is time for those of us in the center to speak out against the extremism that comes from BOTH sides. Violence does not win votes from the center, it loses them.

    I am not on either side. BOTH sides engaged in conduct which should be condemned. If your politics throw you to one side (either side) you get my condemnation. You did not keep your side under control.

    • Eric the half a troll

      So you are not on the side that opposes Nazis?

      • David Obermark

        As much as I oppose Nazis I also oppose Antifa. How about you? Do you cheer Antifa on?

    • JayD

      No that’s false. White supremacist and Nazi groups organized, planned, and then descended on Charlottesville armed like a paramilitary force — carrying shields, protective gear, and lots of guns. That’s not an act of protected free speech – it’s terrorism.

      According to multiple eyewitnesses, Antifa saved lives that day by placing themselves between the Nazi’s and the outnumbered faith leaders and unarmed peaceful anti-hate protesters.

      • David Obermark

        On the night prior to the day of the tragic event, the alt-right marched peacefully because it was a surprise not countered by Antifa and other opposition groups.

        I find myself in a difficult situation defending the alt-right while I disagree with them so strongly. I also strongly defend the rights of my opponents to exercise their 1st amendment rights in peace.

        Antifa is a violent group that tries to suppress freedom of speech. The proof is when they rioted at the Berkeley Campus in California to suppress freedom of speech.

        Had the alt-right been allowed to have their little event and exercise their constitutional rights without being opposed with violence, their little event would not have made national news.

        I guess I am like the ACLU on this topic. If it is OK to suppress those I disagree with, then I should be ready for the same justification to be used to suppress my voice.

        • JayD

          “On the night prior … the alt-right marched peacefully …”
          Watch the video.
          Friday’s “torch march” wasn’t peaceful; it wasn’t about statues.

          • David Obermark

            Completely one sided video. How about sharing a video of antifa of how they planned on dealing with things?

            How about sharing a video of how they planned to riot at Berkeley when the only justification was an opponent speaker?

            You can not undo what has been done. The alt-left is just as bad as the alt-right. They too will result to violence and destruction to accomplish their goals.

            Poor peaceful lefties never offering provocation? Give me a break. Lefties are just as willing to be violent if it helps them achieve their goals. In Charlotte the goal was to match force with force.

          • JayD

            You said Friday night’s terror March was peaceful protest.
            The film illustrates your statement is completely false.

            There is no moral equivalence between people who hate and people who fight haters and terrorists.

            If this group invades my community under a paramilitary banner of hate, I will stand with the faith leaders (who were mowed down in Charlottesville by the “peaceful demonstration”) – with a baseball bat and mace in my pocket.

            No clue what it is within your spirit that compels you to ignore facts and defend the indefensible.

          • David Obermark

            Does the alt-left hate the alt-right?

            Despite what you hoped it would portray, your video shows hate from both sides on Friday night.

            Stop ignoring the “facts” and only choosing to accept the “facts” that support your viewpoint.

            Antifa is a violent organization that chooses to use violence to achieve their objectives.

            Self defense is always good. Aggressive offense is bad. It is not OK with me if the aggression displayed supports your particular viewpoint.

          • JayD

            Show me a video/audio of “the alt-right marched peacefully” on Friday.

          • David Obermark

            I heard it on NPR. I consider NPR to be a reliable source.

  • Cam

    Also important to keep in mind that the terrorist democrats of antifa are targeting mainstream GOP.

    A very recent example – the Portland Rose Parade, back in April 2017, was cancelled because of direct antifa threats of violence against the mainstream GOP, who were planning to march in the parade.

    This needs to be taken more seriously at all levels; it’s a far greater, deeper problem than many seem to currently understand or are willing to admit; cuts right to the heart of the First Amendment and the Constitution itself.

    • old_redneck

      Perhaps Cam can explain this . . . photo of “antifa” protestor beating a cop in Charlottesville was photoshopped from a photograph from Greece.

      This is not a genuine photograph of an antifa protestor striking a
      police officer. This image was digitally manipulated to add the antifa
      logo to an unrelated photograph.

      The real image was taken in Athens, Greece in December 2009
      during a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the death of
      Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old who was killed by a police
      officer. Photographer Milos Bicanski took the photograph, which is
      available on Getty Images with the following caption:

      Greek youths clash with riot police during a
      demonstration commemorating the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros
      Grigoropoulos’ by police a year ago, on December 6, 2009 in central
      Athens, Greece. Two police officers will go on trial in the new year for
      the murder of Grigoropoulos.

      The protester’s jacket in the original image was blank.The antifa logo was digitally added to this image, which
      was then reshared as if it depicted a recent incident in an attempt to
      show that “both sides” contributed to the violence in Charlottesville:×243.jpg

      • Cam

        Pathetic attempt at diversion and yet the facts remain:

        Antifa has already used threats of violence to shut down and silence mainstream GOP activity; a recent example being the direct threats of violence against the GOP in Portland, OR that led to the cancellation of the Rose Parade in April, 2017.

        The fact is – if you’re a member of the GOP, or associated with the GOP, you’re a “nazi” and a “white supremacist” and a “white nationalist” in the eyes of these democrats and no amount of introspection or appeasement is going to change that simple fact.

        This isn’t complicated.

        • old_redneck

          Nazi demonstrator at C’ville bravely attacks unarmed college students, blubbers like a baby, melts like the snowflake he is when he learns there’s a warrant out for his arrest.

          Vermont Klansman learns that actions have consequences. Fired for his criminal activity at C’ville.

          • Cam

            Okay, but those are just diversions from the key point and the key point is that, in the eyes of today’s democrats, every single person associated with the GOP is a racist, fascist, or “white nationalist”.

            As such, antifa has engaged in direct threats of violence, against the GOP, in places like Portland, Oregon and has been successful at totally silencing events like the Portland Rose Parade – canceled in April, 2017 due to those direct threats of antifa violence.

            Also note that antifa has a long and storied history of terrorism tracing back to its communist and Bolshevik roots in pre-WW2 Germany.

          • JayD

            The key point is that, in the eyes of today’s democrats, every single person associated with the GOP is a racist, fascist, or “white nationalist”.

            Is that a fact? If so, please cite source.
            Sean Hannity?

          • Cam

            It’s patently obvious to anyone paying attention. Mark Tushnet, for one, has been very open about his desire to treat anyone associated with the GOP as “Nazis” …


            Michael Seidman, of Georgetown Law, is another individual who has echoed similar sentiments; Mr. Seidman has openly called for the abolition of the Constitution.

          • JayD

            Yes, and Eric Trump says all Democrats as amoral and less than human. “To me, they’re not even people … It’s so, so sad. Morality’s just gone. Morals have flown out the window, and we deserve so much better than this as a country.”

            Does that reflect the views of all Republicans? I hope not.
            If we want policy oriented civil discourse, this group think other-bashing has got to stop.

          • Cam

            There’s no question that today’s democrat party is an urban party of revolution. Obama, in fact, attempted revolution twice – first with the “Occupy” insurrection and then with his incitement of terrorism and violence against police officers.

            Maybe he thought no one was paying attention?

          • JayD

            ^ illustrates why I left the Republican Party after 30 years. Breitbartism is a cancer that destroys minds and will ultimately destroy the GOP.

          • Cam

            You’re either not paying attention or you’re unwilling to face the truth.

            It’s that simple.

  • DJRippert


    Great article. Does the statute allow for the statues to be moved by local authorities? My understanding is that the Charlottesville City Council wanted the statue moved to a less prominent park. Is that allowable under the law?

    • The way the law is written, once the monuments are up, they can’t be “disturbed” so I would read that to mean they could not move them to a less prominent park without GA approval.

  • Peacemaker
  • John Ub

    The best quote of the article – “The result has been clear: We have elected officials who can stage grand spectacles, but can’t pass a bill.”
    How very true. Yet, we continue to vote in the same losers year after year – and vote along party lines no matter the candidate.

  • MD Russ

    Right on cue, McAuliffe has called on the GA to allow local jurisdictions to remove Confederate monuments. Let the political theater games begin.

  • Jim Portugul

    Great scratch Mr. Schoeneman. Last week the media had us on the brink of war with Korea. This week on the brink of civil war. What’s up for next next week?

  • JayD

    “All of this began with a debate about the future of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville …. “ No. The violence began when a group of armed thugs from across the country organized and descended on Charlottesville.

    You whip city officials for throwing the debate to the courts, when – by your own admission – introducing such legislation would be fruitless. So, what then is the Schoeneman-approved method to get old bad laws off the books, especially when Southern legislatures (with few exceptions) are rarely proactive in overturning pre Civil Rights era law?

    My question: What prompted Virginia’s legislature to enact statewide monument protection laws – overruling local city councils- in the first place?

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