On Aug. 11, 2017, hundreds of alt-right and neo-Nazi supporters gathered in Charlottesville, Virgina, to protest the city’s decision to remove Confederate monuments. Armed with weapons and lit tiki torches that glowed in the night, they marched on University of Virginia’s campus, shouting antisemitic chants. The next day, the rally took a deadly turn when a vehicle drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one.
But “Dilbert” comic strip creator Scott Adams recently suggested the rally was a false flag operation staged against former President Donald Trump. Hundreds of newspapers recently dropped Adams’ strip from their pages following racist comments he made on his video podcast.
“What are the odds those tiki torch carrying neo-Nazis from Charlottesville would only rally once?” Scott wrote in a March 8 tweet. “Feels like it was an American intel op against Trump. That’s my working assumption.”
PolitiFact reached out to Adams for comment, but he did not respond.
There is overwhelming evidence that the Unite the Right rally wasn’t staged. Some alt-right protesters who were there, like Nick Fuentes and Timothy “Baked Alaska” Gionet, have since declared their political support for Trump. News reports, court documents and other evidence prove that the rally — and the violence that unfolded there — was real.
On Feb. 7, 2017, city council members of Charlottesville, Virginia, voted to rename Lee Park as Emancipation Park — later renamed again as Market Street Park — and remove a monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Alt-right activists and white nationalists decried the move.
According to court records, white nationalist Jason Kessler submitted a request on May 30, 2017, to obtain a permit for the Unite the Right rally to be held at the park Aug. 11-12 of that year.
The purpose of the rally, Kessler wrote in the request, was a “free speech rally in support of the Lee monument.” Kessler did not mention Trump in that document. It was expected to be the “largest public rally by white supremacists in 10 to 15 years,” the Anti-Defamation League wrote ahead of the event. Thousands of white nationalists and alt-right leaders were expected to attend from across the country. Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe warned people ahead of time to stay away, and the Virginia National Guard was ready to respond.
Unite the Right activists clashed with counterprotesters on Aug. 12 in a violent turn of events. Images of violence made national headlines. Self-proclaimed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr., then 22, of Ohio, plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens of others. Fields was sentenced to life in prison.
The Justice Department under Trump launched a civil rights investigation into the matter. And while Trump faced controversy over comments he made about the rally, he decried the violence: “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable,” he said. “Justice will be delivered.”
Since then, Unite the Right supporters have mobilized in other places.
Members of groups including Patriot Front, Vanguard America and white nationalist leaders like Fuentes and Gionet have appeared in other extremist demonstrations. Fuentes and Gionet have shared their affinities for Trump — both were in Washington, D.C., during the Jan. 6, 2021, Stop the Steal Rally and attack on the U.S. Capitol. Gionet is a named defendant and pleaded guilty for his actions. Alt-right activist Richard Spencer, who shouted “Hail Trump” when the former president was elected, was at the rally and later returned to Charlottesville in October 2017 for another white nationalist rally. Spencer later disavowed himself from Trump.
Adams’ claim that the Unite the Right rally was staged is Pants on Fire!
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.