The Perpetual Unpleasantness


By Chuck Reece, Tim Turner, and Tom Lee

It was bad enough — disconcerting, horrific, embittering — to watch the Charlottesville attack unfold on television. Then, at 2:23 p.m. Saturday, a photojournalist and Bitter Southerner contributor, Pat Jarrett, posted these words on Facebook:

“I was ten feet from the crowd of people who got run over by a grey Dodge Charger, many injured, I am OK. This was an attack.”

Holy shit.

To make sense of what happened in Charlottesville will take time. We’re working with Pat now to bring you his story and photographs tomorrow. But in the meantime ...


A bit of news at The Bitter Southerner, something we had not yet publicized, is that we now have a part-time managing editor, a trusted colleague to help me carry the weekly 100K-word-plus reading load. His name is Tim Turner, he has been my friend for more than a decade, and you might remember him from this story he gave us.

Tim, our Southern Politics columnist Tom Lee, our publisher Eric NeSmith, and the rest of our founders and team have been wrestling with how to respond to Charlottesville since Saturday afternoon. We have reached a few conclusions:

  1. Tim and I are in complete agreement that his Uncle Buddy and my daddy, Clarence, would be equally pissed off today. Both of them fought in World War II. To paraphrase Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's tweet from Saturday, neither fought Hitler to allow Nazi ideas go unchallenged here at home.

  2. Tom and I can’t make up our minds whether we want to talk about the cowardice of the racists who brought their hate to Charlottesville or the danger they pose to the future of our region and nation. They are cowards, but they are dangerous, and both facts are worthy of discussion.

  3. Our entire BS crew agrees that the job of standing up for what’s good about the American South just got harder.

A couple of days ago, Tom sent in a really good column about a legislative conference in Biloxi (seriously, it’s good). But Biloxi can wait. Today’s Southern Politics column — on a dark Monday post-Charlottesville — is a team effort. And we start with Tim Turner’s thoughts about what just happened and how his Uncle Buddy would feel right now:


A few words from Tim

While watching the events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, I could not help but think of my uncle, James "Buddy" Webb. He'd have been pissed.


Uncle Buddy was among the 909,000 African-American soldiers who served in the United States Army in World War II. He was exceptionally proud of his service. He spoke often about the treatment he and his fellow African-American soldiers experienced in France while stationed there, fighting to liberate that country from Adolf Hitler's Nazis. I know exactly how he'd respond had he seen those Nazi flags flying in tandem with that of history's other biggest loser, the Confederate flag.

Watching that, I was reminded of an incident when I was 13 years old. When a historic 14-inch snowfall in Columbus, Georgia, made driving virtually impossible, Uncle Buddy and I walked about a mile and a half to the only open store to get food for the family. As we walked back home, our arms laden with grocery bags, a car — not unlike the one that plowed into the crowd in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, killing Heather Heyer — pulled up next to us as we walked. Then, as it got just ahead of us, the driver gunned the engine, speeding off, deliberately spraying my uncle and me with dirty snow.

Thoroughly pissed, my uncle looked at me and said, "I did not fight in WWII for that shit to happen!"

Movies like “Dunkirk” would lead you to believe men who look like my uncle did not fight in WWII at all. Although they were denied their civil rights right here at home in Georgia, they still traveled an ocean away and fought for this country against the Nazis. His reward was to have four punks get their kicks by spraying us with dirty snow and discounting the sacrifice Uncle Buddy and others made. That's what I think of, how angry Uncle Buddy would have been to see alt-right and white-nationalist forces come together to create the mayhem that he and so many others fought to keep from reaching our shores.

As if both wars — Civil and WWII — were fought for nothing.


I have known Tom Lee for 38 years. We first worked together in journalism at The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper of the University of Georgia. I have always relied on Tom to be a voice of reason, a counter to my flaring, punk-rock temper, which is why he was the only person I trusted to write a Politics column for The Bitter Southerner. He’s the kind of person you call on when you want experience, knowledge, and solid judgment.

So, here is Tom, writing about how Charlottesville needs to play out in our political thinking.


A few words from Tom

The racially motivated violence of Charlottesville must be understood through the prism of politics.

Sociologists debate the extent and cause of violence for its own sake. Violence in the name of a political cause, as the history of our South bears out, exists but for one purpose: to exclude the opposition from politics.

It has been done before, and with brutal efficiency. As Nicholas Lemann's brilliant 2006 book, "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War," observes, one war ended at Appomattox Court House, but another began in courthouses across the South as hundreds of thousands of new voters with legitimate axes to grind sought their place in the American political process.

In this war, the Fort Sumter moment occurred in Colfax, Louisiana, on Easter Sunday, 1873.


The recent election of a Republican African-American sheriff in newly formed Grant County, Louisiana, had enraged local whites. They began a backwoods campaign of terror, home by home, against the black voters of Grant County. Blacks retreated to the one place they felt their sheriff could protect them, the new county courthouse in Colfax.

So, whites set the courthouse on fire, shooting and maiming those who tried to flee. No one kept records, of course. Smithsonian magazine recently estimated between 60 and 150 people were massacred in what was, until the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, the largest political murder in American history.

When the federal government prosecuted three of the perpetrators, racially motivated political violence spread throughout Louisiana and, eventually, into other states. White Leagues, Bulldozers, White Liners, and Regulators were some of the names the terror organizations took. Candidates were threatened, homes burned, families lynched. Often, politically active African-Americans simply disappeared in the woods and swamps.

The political effect was stunning. In 1873, a Republican candidate for sheriff in Yazoo County, Mississippi, had received 2,365 votes. After three years of White Line terror, the Republican 1876 nominee for president, Rutherford Hayes, got two votes in the same county.


To borrow Carl von Clausewitz's famous formulation in "On War," that is the continuation of politics by other means.

True, Clausewitz wrote of war. But when the flag of our 20th-century enemy unfurls beneath a statue of the leader of our 19th-century separatists, when three are dead, and when one of the movement's leaders says all of this is to fulfill campaign promises, one may well ask:

Is Charlottesville merely the continuation of politics by other means? And how do our politics respond now?


A few final words from Chuck

How do I feel about Charlottesville?

I’ve read all the reports about how white nationalists came from all over America to the “Unite the Right” rally. I’ve heard the claims that not all these people are Southerners. And it is absolutely true that racism is confined neither to the South nor to the whole of America. The sickness of racism infects people worldwide.

But we cannot ignore the fact that these people — wherever they are from — chose our region, and its symbols of the Confederacy, as the place to take their stand. Therefore, it’s up to us to root them out. As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over.

My first years in New York City came at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I will never forget when I began to see the logo of the newly formed AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) around the city. A simple, equilateral, pink triangle, with these words underneath it: Silence = Death.

That’s where we are today, and on Facebook this weekend, I saw a variation on the ACT UP logo. The triangle was white, and the words below it were “White Silence = Death.” Also this weekend, someone on social media turned my attention to the words of the Rev. John Pavlovitz, who is affiliated with the North Raleigh Community Church in North Carolina. The Rev. Pavlovitz writes a blog called “Stuff That Needs to Be Said.”

In a post that Pavlovitz wrote on Saturday, this paragraph pierced my heart:

White people especially need to name racism in this hour, because somewhere in that crowd of sweaty, dead-eyed, raw throated white men are our brothers and cousins and husbands and fathers and children — those we go to church with and see at Little League and in our neighborhoods. They need to be made accountable by those they deem their “own kind.” They need to know that this is not who we are, that we don’t bless or support or respect this. They need white faces speaking directly into their white faces, loudly on behalf of love.

If I were to challenge The Bitter Southerner Family to do anything right now, it would be to take Pastor Pavlovitz’s words to heart.

We know these people. We see them. They are in our communities. For far too long, we have shrugged and tried to ignore words from acquaintances that might suggest sympathy for the neo-Nazis, the Lost Cause apologists, the alt-right, or the so-called “American nationalists.”

Our silence is no longer acceptable. White people in the South who know better must call out our neighbors and family members who apologize for or justify the actions of murderers, the actions of the deluded, the actions of the cowards, the actions of the dangerous. When we hear the code words, the dog whistles, or even completely overt expressions of racism, people like us no longer have a choice.

We must respond. White faces have to look straight into the eyes of other white faces and say: I will not abide your hatred.  

Stay with us as we keep digging this week.