BUCKHANNON — Hate has no home here.
Miles removed from the Charlottesville, Va. riots, area residents came together at the Upshur County Courthouse for a vigil and march to West Virginia Wesleyan Campus to show their support for the victim killed and those injured over the weekend.
The march was organized by Buckhannon Pride member Dannie Stiles, who thanked the roughly 30 people for coming to the candlelight vigil. He also condemned the hate groups that converged on Charlottesville and the violence that ensued.
“Our forefathers, our grandfathers, our uncles … did not fight against Hitler for [Nazism] to rise again,” Stiles said. “We will not let it happen, and I see several veterans in our midst today. We each have fought against terror so this won’t happen.”
One woman who came to the vigil Monday had been in Charlottesville over the weekend.
Jennifer, who asked not to be identified by her last name, traveled to Charlottesville after answering a call from her church.
“It was an email that I got from my church asking for faith leaders and lay leaders in the community — I’m not, I’m just a member —but it said we need to support the church, that they are doing racial justice work and if anyone can go, to please go,” she said. “I went by myself. It wasn’t the smartest move I have ever made. I should have gone with someone else, but I stayed with friends in town and met up with locals in the town.”
As the tensions began building and more people began arriving, Jennifer could see the atmosphere change.
“That anger was just palpable from the alt-right and from the white supremacists and the Nazis, because that is really what they are,” she said. “They came armed with weapons … and were so angry and ugly and calling for violence.”
At the same time, the faith community and counter-protesters were also coming together in opposition to the hate groups.
“Somewhere between incredibly scary and incredibly powerful and moving,” she said of the atmosphere. “There was a huge response from the faith community and the local community. It’s a beautiful town and there is so much support in town that this hate was not welcome there and these were outsiders coming in.”
Jennifer stayed in Charlottesville Friday night through Sunday morning after church.
“There was an interfaith prayer service on Friday night at the Methodist church downtown that was beyond full and more people wanted to come to it than could fit in the church,” she said.
She also witnessed the Nazi supporters as they lit Tiki torches after dark.
“The 200 people waving torches in the middle of campus — that was Friday night which was downtown,” Jennifer said. “It was scary. People were being tear gassed and beaten Friday night.”
“Saturday morning brought another prayer service at the Baptist church, which was kind of a rallying point that this is our community and we are here in love,” she continued. “That is what people were saying, ‘We were here in the love and we were here to be with each other as family.’ I was there for that.”
After the prayer service, those opposing the hate groups headed outdoors.
“There was a really great peaceful march and rally which people joining in up to a local park and more speaking out,” Jennifer recalled. “It was really positive and really great, and then the [white supremacist] rally was down the street a couple blocks. It got ugly, really, really fast. When it got dispersed, it spread across the city. I feel like that is part of the issue that it spread across the city.”
Jennifer said the pictures of the violence were accurate depictions of what was happening. The violence reached a crescendo when James Alex Fields Jr., 20, drove into a crowd of people protesting the various hate groups, killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen more.
“It was as ugly as the pictures made it look like,” Jennifer said. “People were coming back really happy and really jubilant, when he ran into cars and ran over people, intentionally. Who does that?”
Despite the tragic violence, Jennifer had no regrets about going to Charlottesville to oppose hate.
“I am an EMT and have medical training,” she said. “I am not licensed in Virginia but I figured I could help out in an emergency. I am so glad I went.”
In fact, Jennifer was able to help Virginia emergency responders by rendering first aid at the scene.
“One of the guys that I worked on was hit by the car,” she said. “It makes a lot of stuff seem really trivial. It makes me remember and recommit to this really important work where I have to check my own white privilege at the door.”
“I was a tiny, tiny, tiny piece of people doing really hard work in Charlottesville for a really long time to make it a better, more just, community,” she said. “I just went for the weekend.”
As the marchers traveled down Main Street in Buckhannon on Monday, many held candles brought from home or signs that read “Hate Has No Home Here.”
At the college, Stiles noted the signs.
“Hate has no home here,” he said. “Let that be our community mantra, let that be our personal mantra. If there is a purpose for us to be existing, I personally believe it is to share life and to share love with everybody.”