WASHINGTON — Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stopped by Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., on Thursday night to chat about his new book, "Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism," but was also confronted by several Charlottesville activists.
It was the first of his two appearances in the nation's capital — part of a high-profile national tour that doesn't include Charlottesville — with an overflowing standing-room audience eager to hear his take on the event that shocked the nation two years ago.
"Racism exists," McAuliffe said. "For far too long, people felt it wasn't an issue anymore in our country. People didn't like to talk about it. Charlottesville forced us to have that conversation."
The first half of the book is a detailed examination of how the two days unfolded, including McAuliffe's conversation with President Donald Trump, and the deaths of Heather Heyer and two state troopers. Heyer was killed when a self-professed neo-Nazi beliefs rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. The two state troopers (both of whom had worked directly with the governor) died when their helicopter crashed. The second half of the book looks at where we go from here.
"I don't blame the president of the United States — Donald Trump — for specific acts," he told the audience. He does blame Trump "for his language, his actions, the divisiveness, the hatred that he has brought to this country." A language, McAuliffe said "that people feel is comfortable to walk down the streets and say it. They didn't feel comfortable, they would not do this, under Barack Obama, they would not do this under George Bush, they would not do this under Bill Clinton."
The release of the book Tuesday came in the midst of yet another national debate about race — the president's tweets that four Democratic minority members of Congress should "go back" from the "crime infested places from which they came" followed by his attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Baltimore.
"It was Charlottesville when Donald Trump came out as a full-fledged racist — and I don't say that lightly," said McAuliffe. "This is a pattern he has. He's divided the country. We need someone who can bring the country back together again."
As he wound up his remarks, McAuliffe noted that the proceeds of the book were going to the Heather Heyer Foundation and the Virginia State Police Association and opened the room for questions. There was a rush to the microphones, and then things took a turn.
The first question — then the second, third and fourth — were all from women who identified themselves as survivors of the Charlottesville rally. Two of them said they had been physically injured, while the other two said they were traumatized by the events of the day. They were unhappy with McAuliffe's support of the city and state police, and his pledge to donate part of the book profits to the state police association. McAuliffe agreed with their request to meet with them and donate a portion to a fund to pay survivor medical expenses.
The activists berated the governor ("Your negligence is the reason why I have chronic PSTD") and compared the police to the KKK ("Cops and the Klan go hand in hand"), which caused some members of the crowd to boo the women for hijacking the event. Yelling ensued, chants were started, police were called and the protesters were moved to the public sidewalk in front of the store.
This was the third protest this year at the venerable bookstore, a cherished stop for any political author: The first when Latinos protested former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's immigration policies, and the second when white nationalists disrupted a book talk by Jonathan Metzl. Both of those erupted at the beginning of the events, and the protesters were escorted out. The store braced for white nationalists to show up for McAuliffe's book, too — instead, they got anti-police activists.
"These are very challenging situations for any establishment," said co-owner Bradley Graham. "People are angrier — that's not news. There's a lot of tension and stress in the air.
"It's a particular challenge for P and P and other bookstores that hold events open to the public, that believe in the mission to promote dialogue. But with that comes a certain need to maintain decorum and civility, so people can be heard. What's really bothersome is when people don't respect that code of behavior and ruin the event for everybody."
McAuliffe, a longtime political veteran, was unfazed. A bit more excitement than expected, he said, but "it's OK, they (protesters) are entitled to come." He quickly moved to the bright side of the night: He signed every one of his books — more than 160 — until they sold out.