The Unite the Right Rally turned violent after protesters clashed with counter-protesters. Over 30 people were injured, causing Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency. The Governor stated that public safety called for additional powers and on August 12 at 11:22 a.m., the Virginia State Police declared the rally to be an unlawful assembly. At around 1:45 p.m., self-identified white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Fields fled the scene in his car but was later arrested. He was tried and convicted in Virginia state court of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, and other crimes in 2018. The following year, Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crimes in a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said that Fields' action met the definition of domestic terrorism.
On August 13, 2017, President Donald Trump made a statement about on the rally, in which he "condemned hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides". During the rally there had been other violence. Some of the counter-protesters charged at the white nationalists with swinging clubs and mace, throwing bottles, rocks, and paint and this was later referenced as justification for the President's criticism of "both sides". While Trump condemned both neo-Nazis and white nationalists, he also referred to "very fine people on both sides". The remark attracted widespread criticism for implying moral equivalence between the white supremacist marchers and those who protested against them. His remarks were seen as sympathetic to the white supremacists.
On August 14, President Trump specifically denounced white supremacists, condemning "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups". But the next day (August 15), he once again blamed "both sides". He was heavily criticized for his remarks in the media, on social media, by world leaders, politicians, religious groups and anti-hate organizations. No friend of the President's, the New York Times reported that he was "the only national political figure to spread blame for the 'hatred, bigotry and violence' that resulted in the death of one person to 'many sides'", adding that he had "buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations".
Racism, both deliberate and systemic has been a part of American history, beginning with the abhorrent practice of slavery, the post-bellum atrocities of the Reconstruction period, the history of lynchings and Jim Crow laws, and many other sad examples on the landscape of the nation's past. Some Presidents have been blatant racists, such as Andrew Johnson, who infamously said, "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." In 1868 Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour campaigned on the slogan "This is a white man's country, let white men rule" and at the 1924 Democratic Party Nominating Convention, banners welcomed the KKK.
Racism in the United States has been a persistent problem throughout the nation's history. For decades, legally sanctioned privileges and rights were given to white Americans but denied to all other races. This included discrimination in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure. Prejudice wasn't exclusively applied to African-Americans. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, especially Irish people, Poles, and Italians, were often the target of exclusion and discrimination as well. Middle Eastern American groups have also faced continuous discrimination in the United States, and have East and South Asians.
Discriminatory institutions include slavery, segregation, Native American relocation and reservations, Native American boarding schools, and internment camps. Although these have been abolished for the most part, socioeconomic inequality has been statistically shown to be imbalanced based on race and ethnicity and racial stratification continues to occur in employment, housing, education, and lending. A United Nations
A 2010 submission to the United Nations by the U.S. Human Rights Network concluded that "discrimination in the United States permeates all aspects of life and extends to all communities of color." While tolerance of racism has declined significantly over the past several decades, discriminatory viewpoints among a segment of the population remain. A 2018 YouGov/Economist poll found that 17% of Americans still oppose interracial marriage
Many Americans believed that the candidacy of Barack Obama, and his election in 2008 as the first African-American president of the United States, was a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era. But racist attitudes remained, even within Obama's own party. For example, Democratic Senate Majority Leader apologized on January 9, 2010, for a comment he had made when Obama was campaigning for president. Reid had remarked that Obama could win the Presidency because be beleved that the country would vote for a black presidential candidate if the candidate was "light-skinned" and "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one", referring to Obama. When these comments were revealed by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their book about the 2008 election entitled Game Change, Reid called Obama to apologize. Obama graciously accepted the apology.
In March 2008, a controversy arose concerning Obama's 20-year relationship to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. ABC News played clips of racially and politically charged sermons by Rev. Wright, including his assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own terrorism and his assertion that "the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." After experiencing a drop in the polls, Obama responded by condemning Wright's remarks, ending his relationship with the campaign and delivering a speech entitled "A More Perfect Union" at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the speech, Obama rejected some of Wright's comments, but refused to disown the man himself, noting his lifelong ministry to the poor and past service as a US Marine. The speech sought to place Wright's anger in a larger historical context
In late April of 2008, Rev. Wright spoke to the NAACP in Detroit, reiterating his earlier views on terrorism, HIV, and other issues. Obama held a press conference on April 29 in which he was personally critical of Wright as well as Wright's controversial remarks. Obama said he was "outraged" and "saddened" by Wright's comments, calling them "divisive and destructive." He said of Wright, "the man I saw yesterday was not the man I met 20 years ago." Obama stated, "Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this."
Following Obama's election, although many pundits claimed the existence of a "postracial America", racial tensions soon became apparent. Many African-Americans complained about "racial venom" directed at Obama's presidency. In July 2009, prominent African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by a local police officer. Controversy soon followed after Obama stated that the police acted "stupidly" in handling the incident. Later, Obama invited Gates and the police officer to the White House in what became known as the "Beer Summit".
Other incidents during Obama's presidency concerned outrage in the African-American community with the law enforcement community. These included the acquittal of George Zimmerman following the shooting death of an African-American youth named Trayvon Martin. In a subsequent speech, Obama saId that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." The shooting of Michael Brown, an African-American man, in Ferguson, Missouri by a white Police Officer, sparked a wave of protests. These and other events led to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people.
Members of the law enforcement community criticized Obama's condemnation of racial bias after incidents in which police action led to the death of African-American men. Conversely, some racial justice activists criticized Obama's expressions of empathy for the police. A March 2016 Gallup poll, nearly one third of Americans said they worried "a great deal" about race relations, a higher figure than in any previous Gallup poll since 2001.
Many portrayed the election of President Donald Trump as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama. In his 2018 book Right Here Right Now, author (and former Canadian Prime Minister) Stephen Harper rejects this theory, noting that many of those who voted for Trump were the same voters who had voted for Obama in the past two elections. Harper makes the case that Trump's victory was more properly attributable to voters in counties adversely affected by free trade and globalization leaving the Democratic party to vote for Trump, especially in industrialized states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.
During the past decade, many examples remain in American society that suggest that high levels of racism and discrimination remain. An example is the rise of the "alt-right" movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the expulsion of racial minorities from the United States, involved in the Unite the Right Rally.
More recently, rioting and looting occurred amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality after a Minneapolis a police officer killed an African American man named George Floyd. In response, President Trump tweeted a 1967 quote, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", a phrase coined by a former Miami police chief. He later addressed protestors outside the White House by saying they "would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen" if they breached the White House fence.
On June 1, 2020, hundreds of police officers, members of the National Guard and other forces, in riot gear used smoke canisters, rubber bullets, batons and shields to disperse a crowd of protesters outside of St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. Clergy on the church's porch suffered effects of the tear gas and were dispersed. President Trump, accompanied by other officials including the Secretary of Defense, then walked across Lafayette Square and posed for pictures holding a Bible up for the cameras, next to where the church which had suffered some damage from a fire started by arsonists the night before. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was "outraged" by the President's actions, while the reaction from the religious right and evangelicals generally praised the visit.