‘We Have Unleashed a Culture Of Hate': Religious Leaders in Contra Costa County Denounce Deadly Charlottesville Rally

More than 200 people gathered at a vigil in Walnut Creek on Monday to pay tribute to Heather Heyer and condemn the white supremacist beliefs held by the man who allegedly took her life in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

The interfaith vigil, organized by religious leaders across Contra Costa County, lasted from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m at Civic Park. Groups sang "This land is Your Land," "We Shall Not Be Moved," and other songs with underlying themes of unity.

The peaceful event was just one of many vigils and protests that surfaced in the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally, a gathering of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and members of the 'alt-right,' that ended with three fatalities and scores of injuries last Saturday. 

The peaceful East Bay event was just one of many vigils and protests that surfaced in the aftermath of Saturday's violent Unite the Right rally, a gathering of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan, that ended with three fatalities and 19 injuries. 

Heyer, 32, had been walking with counter-demonstrators when a man with ties to the "alt-right" allegedly plowed into the group at roughly 40 mph. Two state troopers who were responding to the Charlottesville protests were also killed when their helicopter crashed in woods on the outskirts of town.

The attendees of Walnut Creek's vigil — a majority of whom were white — said they felt compelled to disavow those who promulgate white supremacist beliefs and confront it within their own families and neighborhoods.

Several children held signs that expressed hope for a future in which protesting against white nationalism would not be necessary. A man also handed out "Make America Smart Again" hats that he custom-ordered in bulk after the election. 

"I came today because it was such a shock, such a disgrace," said Helen Rowley, who attended the vigil with her daughter. "I wanted to show that we won't stand for that. We need to look into our own community and stand up against that hate." 

The interfaith vigil was organized by Leslie Takahasha, a lead minister at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, and fellow members of the governing board of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County. 

Before moving to Contra Costa County, Takahasha lived in Charlottesville for seven years. Visibly shaken as she stood in the gazebo at Civic Park, she gave a fiery sermon that denounced white nationalism and hatred. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere, she said. 

"This could happen in any community today," Takahasha said. "We have unleashed a culture of hate that is so virulent that it is spreading like a virus throughout our nation."

"It's time for us to end that," she continued, "and stand for something else." 

Numerous politicians on both sides of the aisle have called Saturday's events a terrorist attack. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been criticized for his lukewarm and non-committal denunciation of neo-Nazis, skinheads and other hate groups that, while rallying, professed their allegiance to him. 

A funeral for Heyer was held on Wednesday. While speaking to a teeming crowd, the woman's mother said that her daughter had long advocated for justice and equality.

"Somehow, I almost feel that this is what she was born to be, is a focal point for change," Susan Bro said.

"They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her ... By golly, if I’ve got to give her up, we’re going to make it count."

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