The Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia showed the worst of humanity. Announced as a protest against the removal of Confederate statues, its true intentions were demonstrated through the hatred, racism, violence shown on the day, and the murder of counterprotestor Heather Heyer.
It’s terrifying to see far-right groups like Neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists proudly air sickening views and violently threaten and assault anyone who opposes them. But the right’s attacks aren’t only carried out on counterprotestors and innocent bystanders. They also turn on their own. Seeing this makes the rally’s name ‘Unite The Right’ seem like a high-order oxymoron.
Before the rally, Bill Morlin of the hate-group monitoring Southern Poverty Law Centre reported infighting amongst rally organisers, including members of one right-wing group who accused their leader of adultery in an attempt to undercut his authority.
At a prior rally in Houston, Texas, a video showed a heated interaction between right-wing groups. It showed white supremacists attack an alt-right member who pleaded with his aggressors for common ground, ‘What about the memes?!’ But memes weren’t enough to placate the white supremacists, who instead ejecting him celebrating.
Cracks within the right-wing Republican Party have widened since Trump became president. Tensions flared after Trump’s weak condemnation of ‘violence on many sides’ in response to Charlottesville, and his failing to name the right-wing groups who instigated the violence – many of whom support Trump. His condemnation was met with condemnation, with fellow Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner voicing their disapproval, followed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Before Trump’s surprise victory, Republican Party members were so divided that some announced they would vote for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump winning the presidency, along with gaining majority control in the Senate and House Of Representatives, should’ve led to the right uniting, but divisions only grew. Every promise made during the campaign split the party, including healthcare, tax reform, and Trump’s beloved wall. Former-Trump-ally Senator Bob Corker has stated, ten months into Trump’s term, that most Republicans are alarmed by a president who ‘acts like he’s doing The Apprentice or something’ and has put the US ‘on the path to World War 3’, regretting their support in the first place. Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson is likely part of this group, based on his avoiding denying calling Trump a ‘fucking moron.’
Republicans have been divided for decades, as reported by Leigh Ann Caldwell of NBC News. A major contributing factor is simply the progression of society, which has led to the party being split between social conservatives and economic conservatives, the latter of whom having more progressive social views.
In Australia, far-right bigotry rose with the emergence of the Islamophobic Reclaim Australia, who gained notoriety through their poorly organised protests in 2015, that were outnumbered by left-wing counter-protestors. The group was undone by infighting, leading to new groups forming like the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front. These new groups were just as disorganised. Former Reclaim Australia member Shermon Burgess left to form the United Patriots Front, and has since left the latter group due to infighting. In 2017, there is little reporting on these groups due to many abandoning the movement.
Australia’s ruling right-wing Liberal National Party coalition has been marred by division its entire time in government. Tony Abbott as Prime Minister proved a mistake for the coalition, scoring record lows in approval ratings and becoming an international joke. Abbott jibed over the Labor Party leadership spill, but he couldn’t provide the stable government he promised, becoming the victim of his own leadership spill twice, with the second finally ousting him.
Removing Abbott from leadership hasn’t calmed the coalition. Abbott’s press conferences have been used to criticise his replacement Malcolm Turnbull on everything from nuclear submarines to the way that he talks. Turnbull struck back, referring to Abbott as a ‘wrecker’, and likely taking pleasure in reprimanding Abbott after he admitted he missed an important vote due to drunkenness.
As of writing, the topic of debate in Australia is marriage equality, which has caused more tension within the LNP. Turnbull has stated he’ll be voting ‘yes’, and Liberal MPs will also be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote, showing the party is no longer beholden to its socially conservative members, the majority of whom will vote no.
But even a party moderate like Senator Dean Smith, who agrees with Turnbull on marriage equality, disagrees with his leader on having a plebiscite, describing the idea as ‘a D-grade response to a defining A-grade social issue’. Minister Christopher Pyne showed he shared the same view after being recorded allegedly conspiring with other moderate LNP members to have same-sex marriage legalised before the next election.
This issue has led to conservatives crying that Australians’ freedom of speech will be threatened. But Abbott has been derided for suggesting banning US rapper Macklemore from performing his equality anthem Same Love at the 2017 NRL Grand Final. LNP Attorney General George Brandis, a conservative who was appointed by Abbott, criticised his former party leader, ironically noting: ‘ … For Mr Abbott or anyone else to say that it should be banned I think is a bizarre thing to say. I thought Mr Abbott believed in freedom of speech.’
Division in the LNP led to conservative senator Cory Bernardi quitting the coalition and forming the Australian Conservatives Party. Shortly after his exit, Bernardi gave an insightful response to the right’s internal bickering: ‘We have to bring people into the tent because the left are very good at working together for the outcomes they want … conservatives are generally much more individualistic.’
Bernardi proved himself correct after criticising Adelaide’s Craigburn Primary School for allowing male students to wear dresses. What Bernardi didn’t understand was that this was an event for Do It In A Dress, a charity helping girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda access better education and facilities. Thanks to comedian Josh Thomas retweeting the senator, and the collective efforts of marriage equality supporters, the school raised over $275,000, exceeding their initial goal of $900.
One of the defining theories of the right is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Rand’s philosophy posits that unfettered self-interest is good while altruism is destructive. Denise Cummins of PBS simplified this, saying Rand rallied for people to ‘pursue their own self-interest without regard to the impact of their actions on others. After all, others are simply pursuing their own self-interest as well.’ For a group of people like the right, driven by self-interest and paranoia of others’ self-interest, uniting seems an impossible task.
As Magnus Linden of The Conversation reports, Professor Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba developed a scale identifying right-wing authoritarian personality traits. Altemeyer found right-wing authoritarians are more aggressive, more dehumanising, and less empathetic. Linden also reports of right-wing authoritarians choosing occupations in which the chance to abuse others might arise. These traits may explain the constant power struggles within right-wing groups, with leaders seeing their followers as pawns to be used, and followers lashing out at others, no matter their political affiliation.
Nearly two months after the Unite The Right rally in the States, alt-right personality Richard Spencer led around thirty white supremacists back to Charlottesville. Much like last time, they carried flaming torches and chanted ‘You will not replace us!’ While a smaller rally, fear still struck, especially within the Jewish community celebrating the holiday Sukkot in the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue just around the corner – a bit too coincidental for a group last heard chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’. Thankfully, the wider Charlottesville community were on high alert, messaging each other and standing watch. The recent rally showed that support for the white supremacist cause has dwindled, and people recognise their threat and will unite to stop them. Rather than uniting the right, the real outcome of Unite The Right was uniting against the right.