Roughly 1,000 people came out to confront fascism in Charlottesville on Saturday and Heather Heyer could have been any one of us. The 32-year-old woman was killed in an attack at Water and Fourth Street, struck down by a white nationalist who fully sought to massacre an entire column of leftwing and liberal demonstrators. Nineteen others were wounded in the vehicular homicide.
I was around the corner with a few dozen DSA comrades when the murder took place, and the intent was unmistakable. The number of casualties, the volume and speed of the impact, and the panicked reaction of the crowd were like a mosaic, collectively outlining cold deliberation. James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old alleged assailant, wanted to sow fear among an emerging movement crossing racial and class boundaries to fight racism, capitalism and nationalism. The act was a dictionary definition of terrorism.
The most obvious motive, similarly, can only confirm the killer's vicious intent. There was no other way for Fields and his ultranationalist co-conspirators to claim victory than through the employment of terror and asymmetrical warfare. Just moments beforehand, they were completely overwhelmed and run out of town: chased off the streets by antifa, and kept off by the sheer number of people who united to defend Charlottesville; a crowd that outnumbered the Nazi hordes by a factor of two-to-one. In the time leading up to Heather Heyer's murder, the tension of the day was starting to fade, with anti-fascist contingents jubilantly declaring victory.
This is precisely why Fields lashed out. His white supremacist movement was humiliated, so he sought to instill fear among those who stood up to his bullying. But judging by the past few days, Fields' effort will all be for naught. People are amassing and congregating across the country to denounce white nationalism and the Confederate iconography that so aptly conveys its message to an American audience. As we saw in Durham on Monday night, statues are quite literally falling. Though James Alex Fields might have momentarily succeed on the streets of Charlottesville, in the long run he will be remembered as an utter failure.