Charlottesville rally photos up at Virginia Holocaust Museum

White supremacists give a Nazi salute at 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally. Photos this page by Alec Hosterman.

After last August’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Alec Hosterman listened as an activist spoke to a crowd of counter protesters.

Heather Heyer had been killed by white supremacist James Alex Fields, who drove his car into a crowd. Two state troopers had died surveilling the supremacists when their helicopter crashed. The counter protesters had assembled, looking to pick up the pieces.

“One woman told the crowd, ‘There’s no justice. There’s just us,’” Hosterman remembers. “I loved that part. If we have to battle, we’re going to have to battle the idea of white supremacy together. It’s just going to be us against them. We’re going to be in this together, and we’re all going to battle white supremacy together.”

“There’s just us” would become the title for Hosterman’s new photography exhibit, on display at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond. A professor of communications at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Hosterman had taken his camera and shot documentary photos at the rally. Photography has long been a hobby of Hosterman’s, who also does it as a side job that he says helps to pay for his equipment.

“I call it my therapy. And it’s cheaper than booze,” Hosterman, 46, says. “For over 25 years, it’s been my way to relax and have a creative outlet.”

But last Aug. 11 and 12 was anything but relaxing. His cousin, also a photographer, called him a few days before the rally.

“He said, ‘Hey, do you want to go [photograph] some Nazis?’” Hosterman recalls. He was expecting to move with the crowds and see what he could find with few aspirations for what he might collect.

Hosterman’s attitude changed after the first night of the rally, when hundreds of white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia campus with tiki torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us!”

“I had never been in a situation where something could happen to me while shooting,” Hosterman says. “I had some trepidation, but I thought, naively, that it couldn’t get any worse than Friday.”

But by 9 a.m. on Saturday, white supremacists began pouring into the demonstration area in waves. Hosterman said he could see the groups getting bigger and bigger, many clad in armor and holding shields.

“They had come ready to do battle and take the attention away from all the cops and the counter protesters,” Hosterman remembers. “I had that sense of self-preservation, but also of wanting to capture everything because the adrenaline was kicking in.”

With his zoom lens, Hosterman kept a safe distance and snapped away, realizing that he was, at this point, documenting an important moment in American history. He saw the violence that the day ultimately descended into: smoke bombs thrown, bats swung and water bottles hurled at counter protesters.

But the 10 images that comprise the exhibit capture the clashes of ideology rather than the violence that was on display: five white supremacists raising their arms in Nazi salutes, a white supremacist giving the middle finger to a counter protester holding a sign that reads, “Tolerance does not mean tolerating intolerance.”

“The dichotomy between her flipping them off and the signs they’re holding up, I love those shots of people’s reactions,” Hosterman says. “I just went into documentary mode.”

When he reviewed everything he’d captured, he realized others might want to see as well, and the words of that activist kept coming back to him.

“Hate and hate speech in the last couple of years has become so prominent, and Charlottesville gave the white supremacists and their disenfranchised voice a much louder voice,” Hosterman says. “There’s a sense that they’re emboldened now. And the question is, what are we going to do to turn that around and battle it?”

“There’s Just Us” will be on display at the Virginia Holocaust Museum through Oct. 28; 2000 E. Cary St., Richmond; free;

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