On Saturday, in Charlottesville, Virginia, several white-nationalist
groups protested the impending removal of a statue of Robert E.
There they clashed with counter-protesters; eventually, police and the
National Guard cleared the scene. Then a dark-gray Dodge Challenger
drove into a large group of counter-protesters, killing one person, a
thirty-two-year-old woman, and injuring nineteen others. A
twenty-year-old from Ohio, James Alex Fields, Jr., has been charged
Kristin Adolfson was there. A graduate of the University of Virginia,
Adolfson, who is forty-one, works as a graphic designer at a nonprofit.
“I left Charlottesville after graduating, in 1998—I was, like, ‘This
town is too small and insular and southern’—and moved to New York City,”
she told me over the phone on Saturday night. “Then I returned, in 2003,
because there was an element of community that I really loved about this
place.” Adolfson participated in protests against the W.T.O. in 1999,
and against going to war after 9/11. “I started protesting again when
the K.K.K. came down here a couple weeks ago,” she said. She headed
downtown on Saturday as part of the counter-protest. Her account has
been condensed and edited.
“I’d known about this alt-right rally—I hate using that word, because it
makes it sound like something good—for at least a month. I was
vacillating between fear of violence and the importance of standing up
against this hatred as a white person. By not going out there, I’d be
basically saying, ‘Everything is fine.’
“I was prepared, in my mind, for tear gas and pepper spray. And possible
conflict with the police. I was also scared of, like, ‘O.K., could I get
stabbed by the white supremacists? Could I get shot?’ We all
knew—through reading alt-right posts online—that they were bringing
their guns. Virginia is an open-carry state, and they can walk around
with their assault rifles. I was worried about getting beat up and
having my teeth knocked out.
“I had ‘Love Not Hate’ written on my shoulders. I wore my glasses
instead of my contacts. In a backpack, I brought paper towels, an extra
T-shirt, Ziploc bags. And earplugs: we heard that the police had the
supersonic-noise things they use sometimes. I brought this thing called
L.A.W., which is milk of magnesium mixed with water, to help if you get
sprayed with pepper spray. I brought saline. Snacks, water, sneakers on
“I’m not there to be around violence—I’m a Buddhist practitioner. So,
going in, it was, like, ‘Let’s slowly get closer to places we feel like
it’s important for us to be, while still being safe.’
“Many of the counter-protesters were occupying Lee Park—or Emancipation
Park, as it’s now known—which has the Robert E. Lee statue, supposedly
the issue of contention. There were some alt-right people in Lee Park,
too. It was getting tense quickly. Some skirmishes started breaking out
and the state police, in their riot gear, started clearing everyone out.
Generally, I didn’t feel like the cops were out there to be violent
toward us, or valuing—like at the K.K.K. rally—certain people’s rights
“But I was getting the heck out of there. I always look for escape
routes. Most people were moving away from the various white-supremacist
groups marching downtown—the neo-Nazis, the Southern Brotherhood, or
whatever, with their shield.
“I thought there were gonna be a lot more alt-right people there. As far
as what I saw, it was, like, five counter-protesters for every neo-Nazi.
“One of the alt-right factions marched right by and we just stood there
and watched them intently, making eye contact. At that point, they ran
into another group of counter-protesting locals, who were
African-American. The alt-right people were chanting, ‘Heil Trump!’ That
got really intense, so we tried to get some cops, but they didn’t come
at that point.
“I was about ten feet away when the car came. I had joined a group
marching from the Downtown Mall—a group of anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter
folks—and we were silently marching by Friendship Court, a
low-income-housing area where many minorities live. We’d heard that the
fascists had already gone there and tried to cause problems. So we
marched by, in silence. We didn’t want to make a scene. We just wanted
to be in solidarity with the people there. Then we saw a bunch of other
counter-protesters coming down Second Street. Another diverse group. We
all were cheering together, marching together, clapping and chanting.
There was no one else around. No standoff. We were just marching, being
peaceful. This was around two o’clock, I guess. It was a very exuberant
feeling of solidarity, community, all that.
“We decided to turn up Fourth Street, to go back to the Downtown Mall. I
was with five people, all locals. I was kind of on the edge of this
one-lane road, an area that was mostly blocked off. I still don’t know
how a car got down there. Then I heard shouts and this sound of, like,
hitting, like, traffic cones. This hollow, horrible sound. Like
dominoes. And I saw bodies fly up into the air. People were running
away. And then the car backed up. I didn’t know what was going on. We
were all running away. Then I went back to see—I thought I could help,
even though I’m not a medic. At that point, people were moving in and
trying to get help and police. And other cars were crashed there. People
were saying the car got away. We didn’t know what to think. Someone
told me a person was dead. It took a while for the ambulance to get
there. People were wailing. Like, really wailing in a way I’ve never
heard. It was horrible. It was horrible. It was horrible.
“I was ten feet away, so I didn’t really see details of the car. It was
just sudden movement through the crowd, sound, bodies in the air. One of
my friends was an inch away from the car. I went and found her and she
was looking for her partner. She was freaking out. I stood with her
until she found him. She’s in one of those photos circulating around
“Then I just couldn’t leave. I had to be there. I didn’t really feel
unsafe and I just couldn’t leave. Me and a few others stayed for about
half an hour, in shock and processing. This was a terrorist act.
Something that happens in so many places around the world, and it
happened here in our little town. It was hard to process that. And the
hate—that someone could actively take people’s lives, that’s what their
“Then we decided we had to leave. Being where people were killed, we
needed to get home. I left my car and we just walked back to one of my
friend’s houses and sat down and texted people that we were O.K. We were
glued to our phones, processing it all.
“Most protests I’ve been to have been against a system or an
organization or going to war. But, with this one, there were people on the other
side. We weren’t protesting these people, exactly, but we were standing
up against their hatred, the bigotry and racism. That’s a completely