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.

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    Men make a desperate plea for medical assistance for their friend, 20-year-old Deandre Harris. Members of the neo-Confederate League of the South beat Harris with poles in a parking garage following the “Unite the Right” hate rally on August 12, 2017. Photo: Abdul Aziz

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    On August 11, 2017, the night before the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, hundreds of White nationalists carrying lit tiki torches marched on the University of Virginia (UVA) in a show of force. “Unite the Right” was organized by Jason Kessler, an alt-right UVA alumn and writer who was fired from The Daily Caller after reporting favorably on a May White nationalist march in Charlottesville without disclosing the fact that he had been a speaker. Richard Spencer, the alt-right leader who espouses “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” spearheaded the May march, which also consisted of a mass of White supremacists bearing lit torches. Photo: Aziz Abdul

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    At center, Azzmador, a contributor to The Daily Stormer, marches among White nationalists during the August 11, 2017, torch rally on UVA. The march was a prelude to the deadly ”Unite the Right” action the following day. 

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    Members of Vanguard America, the White supremacist fascist organization that uses the Nazi Germany slogan “blood and soil,” square off with Antifa during the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Photo: Abdul Aziz

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    Opposing factions square off with flag poles, batons, pepper spray and other makeshift weapons during the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia’s Emancipation Park on August 12, 2017. Photo: Abdul Aziz

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    A member of the Ku Klux Klan receives first aid after being pepper sprayed at the ”Unite the Right” hate rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Photo: Aziz Abdul

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    On August 12, 2017, at the "Unite the Right" hate rally, Richard Spencer and hardline supporters resist police attempting to clear Emancipation Park after Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declares a state of emergency. Spencer, who heads up AltRight.com and the National Policy Institute, is credited with naming the alt-right. He planned a May march in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in the park.

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    Virginia state police in riot gear move in to clear out Emancipation Park, the site of the August 12, 2017 “Unite the Right” hate rally. Photo: Abdil Aziz