In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, July 13, an anti-racist activist in Charlottesville, Virginia, awoke to find that someone, in the dark of night, had planted a flaming tiki torch on their front lawn. About half an hour later, another local anti-racist organizer would discover a blazing tiki-torch had also been placed, in his words, “very carefully and deliberately next to my mailbox.” Later in the day, another tiki-torch was found—this one unlit and abandoned by the side of a road, along with a bottle of a fuel, near the home of a third activist. The message was clear.
“Tiki torches are irrevocably linked to August 11th and 12th,” one of the targeted activists told me, referring to the mob of neo-Nazis and Trumpists who descended on Charlottesville in 2017. “And so for us here, it’s impossible to see this as anything other than intimidation, and I would say you’d have to be incredibly naive not to think of it as a threat of violence… It’s clearly an effort to get myself and others to stop the work we do and to frighten us.”
Three years after the Unite the Right rally, the national spotlight has moved on from Charlottesville but the white nationalists have not. Instead, openly armed “volunteers” are now posting themselves in public parks—making those parks feel much less safe, or public, to many—to protect monuments to racism.