Through Saturday evening's heavy rain and lightning stood dozens gathered on the Courthouse on the Square lawn in Denton, in solidarity with counterprotesters against a white nationalist rally earlier that day in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, with thousands waving Confederate flags, declaring “white lives matter” and “you will not replace us,” turned deadly when a car plowed through a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing one 32-year-old woman, according to local media. A reported 35 were also injured during the rally.
Shortly after, a Virginia State Police helicopter that officials said was assisting with the rally crashed outside Charlottesville, killing the pilot and a trooper.
Denton’s vigil was organized by Sanctuary UNT, a coalition of students attending the University of North Texas formed originally in demand that school officials publicly declare the school a safe haven for classmates, faculty and staff who are in the U.S. illegally. President Neal Smatresk has since said the university will not declare itself a sanctuary campus.
Others groups in attendance included the Denton branch of the International Socialist Organization, Indivisible Denton, a grassroots coalition of Denton County residents, and candidates for congressional office, including Linsey Fagan, a Democrat from Keller, and Andrew Morris, a Democrat from Argyle.
Following the incidents in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump initially tweeted a call for unity, to “condemn all that hate stands for.” Trump was on vacation at his New Jersey golf club when he took to a podium, condemning hate from “many sides” in lieu of singling out any party involved in Saturday’s events.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”
Morris, who is running for House District 64, expressed his appreciation for politicians including Marco Rubio who were outright in denouncing those in the Unite the Right rally.
“I’m actually very surprised that Marco Rubio said that we need to call this for what it is, which is a white supremacist, terrorist attack against U.S. citizens,” Morris said. “This has no place in American discourse. We all may disagree with where we’re going direction- and politics-wise, but we’re all Americans. We need to start working on acknowledging that and putting aside our differences.”
In contrast, most in attendance at the Denton event were dissatisfied by Trump’s responses to the clash in Charlottesville, calling them vague and disingenuous.
“While it seems that he is trying to adopt a generally encouraging tone, I would expect a person in his position true to the power he has to be more specific rather than being vague,” said Katelynn Blasavage, a Denton resident and Indivisible Denton member.
Denton resident Kate Beamon held a sign with a message that read, “There are not many sides. Only justice and injustice.” She also expressed appreciation for a select number of politicians who singled out the white nationalists, but wishes more representatives on a local level would express disapproval against the actions connected to at least three deaths Saturday.
“I haven’t seen many local politicians’ responses — that’s something I’d like to see more of," Beamon said. "I’d like to see more people calling it what it is: white supremacy and the growing alt-right movement.”
Candles were lit and a megaphone was open for encouraging messages once the rain let up. A crowd from the Language Arts Building at UNT walked to the Square and joined those already there, forming a vast circle. They gathered, sang songs and clapped for messages of unity against discrimination.
“I think everyone is out here because someone who has sacred worth as a human being was denied that by another person’s hateful action,” Blasavage said.
MATT PAYNE can be reached at 940-566-6845.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
FEATURED PHOTO: Denton residents gather together in the rain outside the Courthouse on the Square for a candlelight vigil in solidarity with Charlottesville on Saturday in Denton. (Jake King/DRC)