I am not sure I would have the courage to visit a neo-Nazi training camp in Kentucky as a journalist. But Pat Jarrett does. To show us the South at its worst, Jarrett will take his camera and, quite literally, look hate straight in the eye. He has made it his business to understand the individual idiosyncrasies of dozens of hate groups. But on Saturday in Charlottesville, he saw them act in a way he’d never witnessed before: He saw them attack a group of protesters, killing a young paralegal, Heather Heyer, and injuring many others. What follows contains Jarrett’s photographs from Saturday and the story of his day, in his own words, as told to me. — Chuck Reece
I wanted to get there early because I knew stuff would be popping off. The rally, the actual permitted rally at Lee Park, was not supposed to start until noon. But I couldn’t get there until 11:30.
By the time I parked my motorcycle, I had seen through the side streets that the police had blocked off roads. I could see protestors. I could see groups of people. When I was pulling into Charlottesville, I saw a column of what appeared to be Vanguard America, neo-Confederates, National Socialist Movement and other American fascists, as I like to call them generally, marching away from Lee Park, not toward it. I call them all American fascists, because that’s what they call themselves.
I spoke to (white nationalist) Matthew Heimbach in Kentucky in April and made some portraits of him for an article in the Guardian. As we were walking up a hill to make a picture, I said, "So, what's your background? What's your experience?"
He said, "Oh, I sold closet organizers to pay my way through college." I said, "Wow. You went from selling closet organizers to ... "
And he interrupted me and said, "Yeah, selling fascism to America." So, I take them at their word, let's put it that way.
So, I saw these American fascists walking away from Lee Park and marching in a somewhat organized column, carrying flags, carrying colors, carrying shields, and I thought that either Lee Park had been shut down or that it was overflowing. It turns out they'd shut it down. By the time I got to Lee Park, it was fenced off. There were Virginia State Police surrounding it. Nobody was inside the park, but there were tear-gas canisters on the street. There were people running.
One of the earliest things I saw and photographed was a young man probably 20 years old being chased out of the area by counter-protesters.
I could tell he was with the alt-right because he was wearing a uniform. He was wearing a white polo shirt and khakis. I had gone into the online forum for the event, looking at the comments, reading everything. These guys wanted to be in uniform, and the uniform for this event was either a white or blue polo shirt and khakis.
This kid was dressed like that, and he was being chased out. He was running for his life and he got cornered. When he got cornered, he turned around and he took off his shirt and he put his hands up, and tears started welling up in his eyes. He said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Police came and grabbed him and took him away, and nothing happened to him. I was relaying this story to my wife, and she said, “It must be interesting for this guy to feel hunted.” I agreed. It's kind of like the tables turning. That was a really strange experience.
From that point on, I knew it was going to be a different kind of day. In other protests I had covered, they had quarantined the groups off from each other. In Pikeville, one side of the street was the antifa, the anti-fascists, and one side of the street was the white supremacists. In the middle were the riot cops keeping an eye on both sides.
But this was different. As soon as they shut down Lee Park, everything became dispersed. There were protests and gatherings and skirmishes all around, all around the city.
I saw this column of white supremacists marching out, away from Lee Park toward Jackson Park, and I should say from Emancipation Park toward Justice Park, because that's what they're called now. I saw a skirmish break out in front of the parking garage, where a young black man grabbed a Confederate flag from one of these white supremacists, and as soon as he grabbed it, he started running away. He was summarily pepper-sprayed and beaten down with sticks by the white supremacists. The cops were nowhere to be seen. This young man was beaten down, and his friends were beaten up. They beat up some of the white guys, too. I mean, honestly, there were wounded people on both sides. It was a mess.
When I was standing there making pictures, there was a white guy who was crouched down, and he was bleeding from the head. His friends were calling for help. There were young black men in the stairwell seven feet away, and they were also calling for help. Somebody shouted out from the parking garage, "We need a medic in here." One of these white supremacists stood next to me, and he said, "Oh, sure. Call a medic for the nigger."
I looked at him, and I said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, he just called for a medic. He didn't say for who. Both of you are hurt." This guy said, "Oh, you know who they're calling for." Meanwhile, as he's saying this, the only person receiving first aid is the white guy. He was being bandaged up. I recognized this particular white supremacist, the one who used the racial slur, from Kentucky. He said, "Oh, you were in Pikeville." I said, "Yeah. I was. I was documenting there, too." He said, "Why are you still with these guys?" I said, "I'm with journalism. I'm here to bear witness."
At that time, the cops showed up, and they were able to keep the black guys and the white guys from beating the shit out of each other in that stairwell. I think they were security for the parking garage. They weren't riot cops. They were just regular police officers.
After that I got on my bike, and I went around town. The backup location for this rally was McIntire Park, and so I went over to McIntire Park, and I saw people marching there, but there wasn't really anything happening.
I went back toward the city, and I saw a group of people over by the Water Street Garage. There were a bunch of white supremacists fleeing the scene, actually. They were driving out of town pretty quick, and the antifa were throwing water bottles and Gatorade bottles at their cars as they were driving off. They sped off, breaking traffic laws and making it generally unsafe. They just made a quick exit.
After that it was kind of quiet. I met up with a friend of mine and chatted for a minute, and I said, "Well, I don't know, I might get out of here." I started walking away, walking down Water Street, and that's when I heard drums and a loud noise and cheering. I looked over, and there was this massive parade of protesters coming down Water Street towards Fourth Street. I stopped to make a picture of that. I got photos of this massive crowd of people who shut down traffic, but it was a joyous parade. It was celebratory; they were claiming victory because most of the white supremacists were trying to leave town.
At that point, I believe Richard Spencer had been arrested, and I didn't see head nor tail of Jason Kessler or Baked Alaska, or any of the speakers who were supposed to be there. I just saw little pockets of white supremacists leaving town. It felt triumphant. It felt kind of like a block party. They stopped traffic on Water Street. A woman popped out of her sunroof and was high-fiving and hugging people. The first car in line was a Cadillac, and that guy pulled the wheels and kind of put his car sideways. He was cheering. It was cool. There was a lot of love. There was banging on drums and cheers, and it felt good.
I followed the crowd toward Fourth Street. They made a left turn onto Fourth Street, and I was about to turn the corner when I heard what sounded like a bomb going off. I saw bodies flying over the first two cars. I saw water bottles and personal belongings flung into the air and a cloud of smoke, and then just the panic, and the screams, and the push of people running away.
But I turned into it. It's my instinct. It's from years of being a journalist at a newspaper, a photographer. Usually, the place I want to go is the place people are running away from.
I turned the corner, and I got around the corner and that's when I saw the bodies and the people. Bloody bodies and the shocked looks on their faces, and the screaming and the moaning. People were calling for medics. The look of shock on the faces of those people is ... I hadn't seen anything like that, really, before, ever.
The street medics were on the scene first. They were were responding, they were stabilizing the wounded. They had bandages and some water, but not much else. People were still calling for help, I mean just standing in the middle of the wreckage, screaming, "Help. Help. We need medics. We need a doctor. We need nurses. We need medics." The next on the scene were the Virginia State Police riot cops, which which was weird to me, because they showed up brandishing tear gas. One of them pointed a tear-gas grenade gun at me and then was pointing it at everyone else. It was not in a safe position. It was lowered. He was pointing the barrel of the gun at the crowd. That was so confusing to me. This was a medical emergency, and we needed medical help, and there was this guy with crowd-control implements. It's like bringing a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. It just didn't make sense.
Then, a woman in her jogging clothes, a good Samaritan, came in and said, "I'm an R.N. How can I help? What can I do?"
I just showed her. I said, "It's there, it's at that corner. Go." She went over, and the police let her through and the medics let her through, and after that is when the paramedics showed up. When the paramedics showed up, that's when I stepped out onto the pedestrian mall and just gathered myself, because my heart was pumping. It was beating out of my chest. That was a lot of adrenaline.
I was hearing stories. I heard people say that it was a gray Dodge Charger that was driving down the street, saw the crowd, and sped up to hit. As far as I was concerned, this was probably deliberate and an attack. It was in the style of the Berlin Christmas market attack last year.
Me personally, I felt terrorized. I didn't realize it until I walked onto the street, as I was walking away from everything, I stepped onto the street and I had to cross traffic. I saw a car on the street, and my heart started pumping fast again, and I realized that every car on the street is a weapon. I was scared, and I realized that I had been involved in a terrorist attack. That's a terrifying feeling. It's an awful feeling, because it's not like I can avoid automobiles on the road. I realized I'm going to have to be conscious of that going forward — that there is a fear. This will probably manifest in some other way.
That's when I went to a friend's apartment and got some water and had some air conditioning and was able to start editing the photos. The apartment was quiet. Everyone was just shellshocked. Nobody was talking. Everybody was looking at news trying to figure out what happened. Everybody in that apartment was just glued to their screens. There was about seven people, and there was no conversation.
At the beginning, it was unrest, but it was civil unrest. There were punches and there was tear-gas, but it wasn't deadly. This had changed all of that. That's when I decided to leave town.
Today [Sunday], I rode up Shenandoah Mountain and cleared my head, and was thinking about the whole thing. Because when you're on a bike, you can't do anything. It's the road and your brain. You're fully monopolized, physically. I was thinking about this. I was thinking that this young man [James Alex Fields Jr.], he was carrying a Vanguard shield, but the Vanguard didn't claim him. They said, "No, all of our people are accounted for," but that was bullshit. I mean, this guy was carrying the colors. When I interviewed Vanguard members in Kentucky, they held their colors in high regard. It is not something they flippantly just gave out.
They need to own this. It's awful.
What I think this will do is, hopefully, it'll push the centrists, the people who are trying not to take a side, I think it will force them to side with the people who aren't killing people. Anybody who does not denounce this violence is in line with Vanguard and what they stand for.