The vote that will not be counted
Americans will soon line up to cast their votes, as more than 66 million have in the last several weeks. But there is one person who will not be voting. Six days before the election, her story is worth remembering.
Heather Heyer grew up in the town of Ruckersville and graduated from William Monroe High School in Stanardsville. Her pictures reveal almond eyes and an empathetic smile. She woke up one day in August three years ago and traveled to Charlottesville to take part in a peaceful protest of the “Unite the Right” rally that included neofascists, white supremacists, right wing militias, and others. They carried confederate flags and Nazi symbols as they marched past Congregation Beth Israel with their semiautomatic weapons chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Their grievance had been a proposal to remove a statue of Robert Lee from a park in Charlottesville.
Heyer found herself in a peaceful gathering at the corner of Water Street and Fourth Street, when James Alex Fields, known as an admirer of Adolf Hitler, plowed his Dodge Challenger into the crowd. His speed of around 25 miles per hour probably would not have toppled the statute, but it was enough to mow down men and women. He struck another sedan and the impact sent people “flying through the air.” That sedan then hit a minivan, which injured additional pedestrians. Fields then drove in reverse, hitting more people, then tried to flee in his vehicle before he was arrested.
Heyer was pronounced dead at the University of Virginia Medical Center. The cause of death was “blunt force trauma to the chest.” The next day, President Trump decided to tweet, “Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured in Charlottesville. So sad!” That was evidently the best he could muster.
Imagine Ronald Reagan offering “best regards” to wounded Marines in the Beiurut barracks bombings in 1983, or Bill Clinton offering “best regards” to those in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Yet Trump shocked our consciences by declaring, “I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it. You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
Several days later, the organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, one of the “fine people” Trump may have had in mind, wrote a heinous tweet that Heyer was “a fat disgusting Communist. Communists killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.” The man later deleted the post and said that he was hacked but then said he was on drugs when wrote the rant.
I am not blaming the president for the death of Heyer. I am blaming him for fueling the toxic environment that led to her murder. I blame him for giving bigotry sanction and persecution assistance. I blame him for the policy on hate crimes that is reduced to a sly wink at the criminals, for encouraging the absurd but dangerous conspiracy theories of QAnon, and for telling the neofascist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Heyer wrote in her last social media post, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” She cannot vote on Tuesday. She cannot mail in her ballot or stand in line to make her choice for president. So when I hear us praise the high voter turnout, I think of someone who is missing. That is the principle reason why I am voting for Joe Biden, since the only way to prevent such tragedy is to elect a president who will heal our wounds.
Steve Israel represented New York in the House over eight terms and was chairman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can follow his updates @RepSteveIsrael.
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