Berliners Gather at Brandenburg Gate to Denounce Charlottesville Nazis

BERLIN (Foreign Policy) —
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg gate Wednesday to denounce white supremacy and express support for victims of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

More than a dozen German and international groups attended the rally, with speeches in English and German. The crowd chanted “Nazi scum go away,” and volunteers collected donations for the victims of Charlottesville. Attendees later turned to face the U.S. Embassy and shouted, “Hey Trump, we see you, your daddy was a racist too.”

Protesters held signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and had U.S. President Donald Trump’s name crossed out.

A white supremacist march on the evening of Aug. 11 in the Virginia college town featured a crowd composed of white men wielding torches and shouting overtly racist slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, hundreds of members of assorted far-right groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists, clashed with counter-protesters.

But the day took an even darker turn when a man purposely crashed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and wounding at least 19, in what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to as “domestic terrorism.”

Trump did not immediately denounce the overtly racist incident, referring instead to violence committed “on many sides.” He only explicitly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Monday after coming under heavy criticism.

The president then walked back that condemnation at a press conference on Tuesday, stating that there were “very fine people on both sides” and referred to the counter-protesters as “very, very violent.” The statements sparked widespread outrage, even among some in the Republican Party – but found support among some in the far-right. After the press conference, David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted out his thanks to Trump for his “honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.”

The rise of neo-Nazis in the United States has shocked many in Germany, where Nazi symbols and salutes are illegal. This week, photos of white men holding torches and the aftermath of the violence made the front page of German newspapers – many of which are headquartered in Berlin just blocks away from the Jewish Museum and the Topography of Terror, both reminders of the horrors the Nazis inflicted in Germany and across Europe during World War II.

Germany has battled a far-right resurgence of its own. The euroskeptic nativist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged in the polls earlier this year, achieving double-digit support amid its anti-Muslim rhetoric calls and for reduced immigration, but has since fallen into the single digits ahead of the federal elections next month.

The rally in Berlin, organized by several groups, including The Coalition Berlin, Jewish ANTIFA Berlin, and a left-wing political party known as The Left, frequently emphasized the transborder nature of racism and the far-right parties that have advanced across Europe and the United States in the past few years.

One German-language sign held aloft by protesters read, “Germany, you have a racism problem.”

“This is not an American problem, this is a worldwide problem,” said Kathleen Brown, a member of the organizing group The Coalition Berlin, at the Wednesday rally.

The Brandenburg Gate, where the rally took place, was the site of President Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 speech, in which he declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The Berlin wall, which had divided the city for decades, fell two years later, marking the end of the Cold War.

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