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More tolerance, justice, reconciliation needed

The hate was more virulent than I realized. The anger was hotter. The violence was more cruel. And the thing that surprised me the most: it was more overtly racist than I knew.

A year after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., a new documentary shines a harsh light on the hatred that produced the kind of violence this nation assumed was a thing of the past.

Following the rally last year, I had read the news stories. I had watched coverage of it online. But the enormity of it was either not conveyed well or I just missed it.

The rally drew people — many of them trained in neo-Nazi, para-military groups — from more than 30 states. As chants of “You will not replace us” rang out, hundreds marched with torches. And that was the night before the violence boiled over.  It was a sight both shocking and scary.

People were brutally beaten, stabbed and assaulted, often times right in front of police who did nothing. One woman was killed in the mayhem when a car drove through the crowd. Others were bloodied by fists, pipes and other weapons.

Is this what America is now? Violent, white power groups can gather by the hundreds and assault people without consequences? The groups were organized, they were armed, they had shields and they followed orders. What did police think was going to happen? Why did they do nothing?

In the end, there were a handful of prosecutions that resulted from the violence — the man who drove into the crowd, a group of men who severely beat a black man in a parking garage. But the rest who engaged in violence? They walked away, back to their lives and back into society.

The Frontline/ProPublica documentary that looked at the rally identified some of those involved. And who they were was surprising. One is Michael Miselis, a man who can be seen fighting, throwing rocks and assaulting people. He’s a member of the Rise Above Movement, a group based in Southern California that is a modern day skinhead organization. They are white supremacists who have been active in several violent rallies, according to the documentary. He also happened to be an aerospace engineer who was pursuing his doctorate degree at UCLA.

Another man they identified is Vasillios Pistolis, who claimed on message boards to have been in Charlottesville and claimed to have assaulted people at the rally. He is part of a neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division, according to the documentary. It turns out Pistolis was a Marine. He was eventually court-martialed for his involvement.

These people were otherwise ordinary, normal Americans. But they harbored a hatred that many of us could never understand. And they were willing to act on that hatred. Charlottesville brought to light an overtly racist movement, no matter how small, that is active in America.

It’s sickening to know that Americans in any number feel this way about others, simply because they are not white. Or not this. Or not that.

America is growing more diverse. Census population projections show that America will be “minority white” by 2045. That year the population is expected to be 49.9 percent white. Today, that number is about 76 percent.

That future scares some people. But it shouldn’t. No matter the skin color, we are all Americans. There is more that unites us than divides us, and we need to be reminded of that regularly.

There will be more racial violence, more hatred, more groups who react in anger to the changing demographics of our country. So there must be more tolerance, more justice and more efforts to reconcile differences if America is to remain great.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.