Adam Shatz in LRB:
The ‘Unite the Right’ protest was a reminder that the dream of the Confederacy has never died: the vision of Herrenvolk democracy has continued to smoulder since Union troops left the vanquished but still defiant South, scarcely a decade after the end of the war. Eric Foner has described the Reconstruction era, when ex-slaves became citizens and the first biracial southern governments were elected to power, as America’s ‘unfinished revolution’. The battle over Reconstruction never ended; it has simply changed forms. And the struggle to achieve full enfranchisement for black people in the South has produced many martyrs: Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King; James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. And now Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal killed in Emancipation Park.
It is true, as some have sanctimoniously pointed out on Twitter, that even in her death, Heyer was a beneficiary of white privilege, remembered as a ‘strong woman’, rather than subjected to the invasive background check typically meted out to unarmed black people killed by the police. But her biography suggests that she would have been the first to object to any special treatment. ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,’ she wrote in her last Facebook post. She broke up with a boyfriend who expressed unease over her friendship with a black man, her manager at work. White supremacists have reserved a particular loathing for white women in the civil rights struggle: ‘nigger lovers’, they call them. One white woman at the counter-demonstration reported a jeering fascist as saying to her: ‘I hope you are raped by a nigger’; Heyer is likely to have heard similar things. For white supremacists, the end of white rule has always meant the conquest of white women by men of colour, from the rapacious emancipated slaves in Birth of a Nation to Trump’s immigrant ‘rapists’.
The man charged with Heyer’s murder, James Alex Fields Jr, a 20-year-old from Ohio, fits the usual terrorist profile: a radical loser without a father, intelligent but semi-educated and isolated, drunk on visions of grandeur on the stage of history. His murder weapon was a car, rather than a gun, but he was cut from the same cloth as Dylann Roof, who shot dead nine worshippers at a church in Charleston two years ago. Fields wrote school papers celebrating the Third Reich and shouted racist curses at home, but neither his teacher nor his mother thought to report on his ‘radicalisation’. Even if they had, the government is unlikely to have cared.