Some may say that what happened in Charlottesville was not a big deal because it was a relatively small-scale event. And that’s true: Of all the race-based terrorist attacks in recent history, it was neither the largest nor did it produce the highest casualty count. After witnessing Nazis, self-declared militias, and “private security forces” carrying assault rifles alongside state and local police (thanks to Virginia’s permissive gun laws), I can honestly say it could have been tragically worse.
But just because the white supremacists numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands, doesn’t mean the movement can’t quickly spiral out of control. As I saw in Sierra Leone, a small group of terrorists, in the right toxic environment, and with the right powerful enablers, can unleash unspeakable violence that can swallow an entire country.