A 17-year-old boy was charged Friday with making online threats of “ethnic cleansing” against Black and Hispanic students at the public high school in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city that was the site of a deadly white nationalist rally in 2017.
The threats had shut down the city’s public schools on Thursday and Friday, drawing the community closer together but also sparking fear in a city that witnessed racial violence firsthand.
Aware that this college town has become synonymous with racial strife, city leaders used a news conference to speak out against racism and even rebuke past comments by President Donald Trump.
“We want the community and the world to know that hate is not welcomed in Charlottesville,” police Chief RaShall Brackney said. “Violence is not welcomed in Charlottesville. Intolerance is not welcomed in Charlottesville.”
She added: “And in Charlottesville and around the globe, we stand firmly in stating: There are not ‘very fine people’ on both sides of this issue.”
Brackney’s comment appeared to reference statements Trump made in the days after violence broke out in the city during the summer of 2017. A loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists had assembled to protest the city’s decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
In the days afterward, Trump acknowledged there were “some very bad people” looking for trouble in the group protesting plans to remove the statue. “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” he said.
Charlottesville police released few details about the teen who was arrested Friday because he was a juvenile. But they said he lives outside the city in Albemarle County and does not attend Charlottesville’s schools.
When asked about his race, police said the suspect identifies as Portuguese.
The teen faces a felony charge of threatening to commit serious bodily harm on school property. He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of harassment by computer.
Chief Brackney said the student used “vile and racially charged language” on 4chan, a shadowy site known for, among other things, cruel hoaxes and political extremism.
She said detective work helped find the teen and that internet providers and law enforcement professionals “nationally, internationally” helped the department investigate.
Rosa Atkins, the superintendent of Charlottesville schools, said the threat provoked real fear and anxiety. School counselors and others are preparing for the students’ return Monday.
“Since August 2017, our community has made a good-faith effort to have these difficult conversations about race and equity, and build trust and relationships in our school system and in our community,” she said. “And this comment attempted, although it failed, to undermine our efforts, and our community.”