Philly anti-fascist activist calls Charlottesville clash 'most intense' he's seen

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White nationalist demonstrators clashing Saturday with counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va. “The most intense I’ve ever seen,” a longtime observer says.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins kept spotting familiar faces in the crowd.

It was Saturday morning in Charlottesville, Va., and the anti-fascist activist had traveled, as he is wont to do, from his home base in Philadelphia to the college town for a gathering that white supremacists had been planning for months. Jenkins has been tracking the movement for nearly two decades as part of the One People’s Project, an online compendium of prominent (and not-so-prominent) white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and far-right personalities from around the country.

But at the Charlottesville rally, Jenkins saw white supremacists he’d assumed had left the movement, or at least gone quiet. “Folks I thought were long since out of the game,” he said. “In their mind, it was either their last round or the beginning of something glorious. I thought we had a handle on it — but we got too comfortable. Ignoring them was what made them stronger.”

This time, he said, something different was at play: “Donald Trump.” The supremacist groups Jenkins had spent years keeping tabs on were now openly praising the president.

Jenkins, 49, grew up in Somerset, N.J., and moved to Philadelphia in 2005. As a young man, he had been fascinated by an episode of Oprah that featured skinheads, and he started collecting information on neo-Nazis.

In 2000, he launched One People’s Project, which has entries on far-right personalities from Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who coined the term alt-right, to Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Charlottesville rally, to lesser-known hangers-on he spots at rallies and online. In Philadelphia, his group posted fliers in neighborhoods where neo-Nazis lived. Jenkins sat in on court hearings and showed up at rallies.

Sometimes, things got ugly: Jenkins was in York, Pa., in 2002 for a neo-Nazi rally that ended with anti-fascists fighting skinheads in the streets – and with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd.

Jenkins hadn’t seen anything like it since. Until Saturday, when hundreds of white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“I have been to rallies where there’s swinging – that’s par for the course. But this was, by far, the most intense I’ve ever seen,” Jenkins said.

On Friday night, a column of white supremacists marched with torches around the University of Virginia’s campus, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” On Saturday morning, neo-Nazis and counterprotesters converged in a park in downtown Charlottesville.

Shields, sticks, and pepper spray were on hand. “The Nazis were there to fight,” Jenkins said. “You could ask, why didn’t we just stand down and stay away? They were harassing the town, and the thing is, there’s a point where you just can’t ignore it.”

At first, the mood in the park was tense but under control – pushing and shoving, mostly, Jenkins said. And then, suddenly, “there was a lot more yelling and screaming, and all hell broke loose,” he said. Scuffles erupted across the park. Pepper spray filled the air.

Jenkins took a blast of pepper spray to the face, he said, spent a half-hour dousing his eyes with Maalox, and learned, upon recovering, that a white nationalist had been charged with driving a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen people.

“By far the most intense” rally, he repeated, “and, sadly, the most tragic.”

On Tuesday, Jenkins was back in Philadelphia, planning his next move. There was his website to update. There was a coming trial for a group of neo-Nazis charged with running a meth lab in northeastern Pennsylvania he wanted to attend.

And there was President Trump’s Tuesday news conference at Trump Tower to listen to, where the president maintained there was “blame on both sides,” contended that some in the group of torch-bearing men chanting Nazi slogans were fine people, and said that left-wing protesters had “violently attacked the other group.”

“The fact of the matter is,” Jenkins said dryly, “both sides didn’t kill someone.”