After tragedy unfolded Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, media outlets showed images from the inciting protest, the vehicular attack and its terrifying aftermath. On Twitter and on national news sources, the collective perception of what transpired grew out of this footage.
“Vice News Tonight” was one of the outlets on the ground, tracking the white nationalist protest that birthed this senseless violence. In the days leading up to the tragedy, a “Vice” crew lead by reporter Elle Reeve was embedded with a group that led the march.
HBO and “Vice News Tonight” have made the resulting “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” segment available to watch for free on YouTube. It provides a chilling look at the motivations behind the protest itself and the jarring differences in how various groups responded to the attack that killed Heather Heyer.
The segment shows “Unite the Right” organizer Christopher Cantwell addressing supporters in the lead-up to the rally, speaking freely with blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric. Later, when questioned in a hotel room following Saturday’s events, Cantwell is just as callous even when confronted with the evidence of the preceding 24 hours.
Reeve’s reporting is an essential part of understanding the roots of this tragedy, largely due to its context. This isn’t a media outlet giving these hate groups an unfiltered platform. Reeve challenges the holes in the rhetoric of Cantwell and his ilk while drawing out the id-driven answers that few outlets were able to append to straightforward descriptions of the attack itself.
In one telling moment, Cantwell’s cronies threaten to kick the crew out of a transport van. There, it finds an inherent contradiction in this whole white nationalist ideology — they need the media for legitimacy, but the more exposure they get, the more their hateful rhetoric falls apart.
This report is also valuable in that it doesn’t stop at the incident itself, but looks at how local activists responded in the immediate wake. Their peaceful reaction to an unfathomable tragedy is as heartening as the rest of that day was horrific.
You can watch the whole episode, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” below: