April 12, 2017. Ranting a chilling cry of "Jews will not replace us" in unison, white nationalists storm through the town square in Charlottesville, Virginia to oppose the proposed removal of a Confederate statue. They are met with fervor from those who protest their public displays and hatred and discrimination. By the end of this day, dozens of innocents will be injured and one will be killed. For many, this incident offered a sobering reminder that white supremacy is alive, well and out in the open in America. In Documenting Hate: Charlottesville, the award-winning PBS series Frontline investigates the events that have emboldened a resurgence for hate groups across the country.
The filmmakers were imbedded on the ground during every horrific beat of this distressing event. The police remained on high alert in the lead up to the planned protest, and were caught overwhelmed when the violence erupted. The entire city was on edge. The vehicular homicide of 32-year old Heather Heyer was the shameful culmination of these brewing tensions.
Charlottesville citizens and officials speak to the rising profile of these once marginalized hate groups, and the failures of law enforcement and other government entities in properly dealing with them. The filmmakers also investigate the key members of these groups, their method of networking and recruitment, and the platforms they use to spread their hateful rhetoric. Many of the individual members are elusive, but their activities can be tracked through training videos, anti-Semitic and racist hate-mongering, and other online propaganda. The signs of their existence are also on display through graffiti art across the city.
The incident at Charlottesville has only furthered the reach and sphere of influence of these groups. A significant portion of the documentary explores why these groups have largely escaped the scrutiny of the law, and how so few of the instigating offenders were charged in the wake of the attacks at Charlottesville.
Documenting Hate: Charlottesville is a valuable portrait of America as it exists today, a sad reminder of the strides we have yet to make as an inclusive society, and a rallying cry for continued vigilance against hatred.