The FBI Questioned a Black Man About Racist Extremists in Charlottesville—Now He Could Go to Prison
Authorities are arresting and charging anti-racist demonstrators for events connected to the Unite the Right rally, even though it was white supremacists who unleashed violence on the town.
Last summer, white nationalists infamously descended on Charlottesville, Va., holding an armed march and rally where neo-nazi James Fields Jr. allegedly killed anti-racist demonstrator Heather Heyer with a vehicle. Months later, black counter-protesters continue to be arrested on charges connected to the rally, even though it was the racists who unleashed violence on the town. At least one anti-racist protester was arrested after the local police department and FBI questioned him under the pretext of an ongoing investigation into right-wing violence, according to legal advocates.
On Jan. 19, the Charlottesville police arrested Donald Blakney, a 51-year-old black man, and charged him with malicious wounding. The accusation is connected to violence that occurred at the Unite the Right Rally last August, where white nationalists protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The complaint states that Blakney hit a man in the head with a stick who he believed to be associated with the white nationalists. This event allegedly occurred shortly after Blakney was hit in the face and called a racial slur by a different man.
Blakney is the third counter-protester to be arrested and charged for events connected to the rally. All three of these individuals are black, and all three were attacked at the rally.
According to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Central Virginia, Blakney was questioned by Charlottesville police and the FBI last fall, when authorities claimed they were attempting to gather information on white nationalist violence. The NLG tells In These Times that the FBI conducted several home visits to anti-racists in the Charlottesville area after the rally.
Multiple anti-racist activists have also been contacted by U.S. Attorneys who told them they could be subpoenaed to appear before federal grand jury. Blakney’s charges apparently stem from an ABC News program which contains video footage of him at the scene.
In October 2017, DeAndre Harris was charged with assaulting Harold Crews, the state chairman of the North Carolina League of the South, a group that presents itself as the premier “Southern Nationalist” organization representing “white Christians of Anglo-Celtic stock.” Harris was brutally beaten in a parking lot by white nationalists during the Unite the Right rally. He suffered a concussion, a fractured wrist, spinal injury and a head wound that required staples.
“They were trying to kill me out there,” Harris told the Los Angeles Times after the rally. “The police didn’t budge, and I was getting beat to a pulp.”
Harris’ attorney, S. Lee Merritt, insists that the video evidence exonerates his client. He says that Harris swung a flashlight at Crews to prevent him from spearing a counter-protester with a Confederate flag, but that Harris didn’t make much contact. “It’s very upsetting,” said Merritt. “It seems the judicial system in this case has bent over backwards to further assist in further victimizing DeAndre.”
That same month, Corey Long was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly turning an improvised torch against white nationalist demonstrators. Long said that he was protecting an older white man who had been targeted by the protestors. “I was not in the wrong,” he said. “A guy threw a spray can at me, and I took it to my advantage.” The cops also slapped Long with an assault and battery charge for an alleged separate altercation that occurred that day.
According to one of the warrants, Long’s assault charges stem from allegations made by the aforementioned Crews. The charges against Long were criticized by Jason Kessler, the main organizer of the Unite the Right Rally, for being insufficient. “Try ‘No mask law,’ ‘Brandishing a firearm,’ ‘burning an object with intent to intimidate.’ Disorderly conduct for using a flamethrower?” he tweeted. Kessler initially disavowed the rally’s violence via Twitter, but a week later contradicted these statements with a tweet insulting Heather Heyer and celebrating her death. “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time,” the tweet read. The next morning, he blamed the Heyer tweet on drug use and deleted his account a short time later.
A few of the Unite the Right organizers have been arrested as well, but Andrew Mahler, Chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Central Va. chapter, tells In These Times that those arrests were only made after significant public pressure. He also points out that, while racial targeting by Va. law enforcement is hardly a new concept, the recent arrests of counter-protesters fit into a discriminatory pattern that was on full display last summer.
“On August 11 and 12, we watched the police stand down, hiding behind barriers, refusing to arrest or otherwise intervene when members of Unite the Right committed unspeakable acts of violence against people of color and anti-racist counter-protesters,” said Mahler. “They have made it very clear, in the subsequent arrests of three black men who were brutalized by white nationalists, that they intend to follow in the legacy of slave patrols, Bull Connor and historical policing in Charlottesville: distilling fear and uncertainty within our communities of color and among those who show up to defend our communities against white-nationalist, white-supremacist violence.”
Blakney’s malicious wounding charge is a felony that carries a 5‑year minimum sentence, with a maximum of up to 20 years in prison.