Unlike the bigoted protesters in the 1960s, the demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., did not wear hoods. On Saturday, we saw their faces clearly. And they were angry white men.
If we are to get to the root of the recent escalation of confrontational bigotry in America, we must acknowledge who is fueling it. That is the growing demographic of insecure white males who blame their social and economic failures on everyone but themselves.
Demonstrations like the one this weekend represent the false notion that white men are losing the unfair advantage they have enjoyed in America since its founding.
The fear that African-Americans would somehow gain economic parity with white men has long been one of the driving forces behind bigotry in our country. Today, that bigotry has been expanded into a cultural war against immigrants - a fight that is largely defined by education or more specifically, the lack of it.
Americans who thought that racism and bigotry would simply die out with the aging population must be sorely disappointed. Young men are largely driving the modern hate groups, and their numbers have escalated in the last two years.
They are people like Dylann Roof, who was 21 when he killed nine African-American parishioners during a prayer service in Charleston, S.C. And James Alex Fields Jr., 20, who is accused of plowing his car into a crowd of anti-rally protesters Saturday, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 people.
While young men are at the forefront of the violent encounters, they are by no means the only perpetrators of hate. Just as it was nearly a half-century ago, there are many more bigoted sympathizers who stand with them in spirit, if not in person.
They are Donald Trump’s people. And he knows it.
Regardless of how we might feel about former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, he is right in telling Trump to take a look in the mirror and recognize that it was white Americans who put him in office.
It wasn’t every white American, though. It was specific white voters.
Trump won the largest margin of white voters without a college degree in nearly four decades. Two-thirds, or 67 percent, of non-college whites supported him, compared with 28 percent who supported Hillary Clinton, according to the Pew Research Center.
Let’s break those numbers down by the sexes. According to exit polls, 71 percent of white men without a college degree voted for Trump. And 61 percent of white women without a college degree supported him.
These voters represent the core of red state America. In rural swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, they are the ones responsible for pushing Trump across the finish line.
By no means should we assume that every uneducated or undereducated white Trump supporter would join a hate group or even become a sympathizer. Most of them likely were appalled by the violent images that came out of Charlottesville. Neither should we think that well-educated whites can’t buy into the white supremacist argument that America has somehow been stolen and needs to be brought back to where it belongs. Indeed, there has been a recent movement to recruit on college campuses.
But the people who are most likely to be swayed by the bigoted rhetoric of white nationalist, neo-Nazi and armed “Patriot” groups certainly can be found among Trump’s low-income, less educated supporters. They are among those who tend to feel most vulnerable to the changing demographics.
It is clear why Trump refused to denounce these groups when he first addressed the Charlottesville violence. People who fear that the America that was created to advance the prosperity of white men is being taken away are a crucial part of his base.
And with recent polls showing that he is losing support among his most loyal supporters, Trump cannot afford to turn on them.
Much of what he has tried to accomplish so far in the presidency has been for this group of people. They are the ones who want a wall built at the Mexican border and support a ban on Muslim immigrants entering the United States.
They hate the idea of sanctuary cities and agree with Trump that law and order can best be achieved in local communities by “getting tough,” which seems to mean locking up black people and throwing away the key.
They are the reason Trump surrounded himself with people like Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, and Jeff Sessions, his attorney general - men with documented biases toward immigration and civil rights.
On Saturday, Trump chose to dilute what could have been the most heroic speech of his presidency by adding “on many sides” to his weak condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville. And he did it to appease this important part of his base.
So insecure white men can gather around a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee while carrying Tiki torches, use their cars to run people down and expose their hatred without hiding behind a mask.
They may think they lost ground under previous administrations, but as long as Trump is president, they have nothing to fear.