On August 11 and 12, 2017, photojournalist Abdul Aziz did what he’s been doing for at the past six months: He placed his body in the middle of White nationalist demonstrations and captured evidence of the manufactured chaos and violence.
“My primary objective for documenting the rise of the alt-right and other violent White and Southern nationalist organizations has been to allow [participants] to express their opinions and showcase their actions unfiltered so that the world can have a more in-depth and honest understanding of who they are and what their stated objectives are,” writes Aziz in an email to Colorlines. “During this process, I have managed to gain access to some of the key players and allowed them to explain their affiliations. Understanding the difference between White nationalism, Southern nationalism, the pro-Confederate monument movement, constitutional patriots, alt-right trolls and others is also important. These individual movements, while usually lumped into a single categorization of ‘alt-right,’ are not a monolith. It is important to have an honest dialogue about the threat they may or may not pose. If putting my body on the line allows for some of that work to be done, I feel it absolutely necessary to be present.”
On August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aziz captured photos of White supremacists from various factions—from leaders of the alt-right to neo Nazis to the Ku Klux Klan—who gathered in the recently renamed Emancipation Park under the mantle of “Unite the Right.” The mass protest was in response to the pending removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The night before “Unite the Right,” Aziz was embeded with the hundreds of White nationalists who marched on the campus of the University of Virginia carrying lit tiki torches. Some participants attacked a small group of student counter-protesters at the university’s rotunda.
“Unite the Right” was the culmination of previous White nationalist protests in Charlottesville over the Robert E. Lee statue. In 2015, someone scrawled “Black Lives Matter” on the heavily oxidized monument. Up close you can still see the faint outlines of the resistance to an object that represents a violent history of American White supremacy and a resurgence of White nationalist organizing—with the tacit approval of President Donald Trump.
Abdul Aziz, a freelance New Orleans-based photojournalist, brings a rich background of chronicling imagery of global communities, from the Middle East to Africa, Asia and the United States to his work. He has worked in documentary filmmaking worldwide for more than a decade chronicling social issues related to race, exploitation of indigenous cultures and unfair labor practices.