Bridgeport Pastor Recalls Experience at White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville

What Pastor Anthony Bennett from Bridgeport witnessed in Charlottesville last weekend is a reminder that racism and white supremacy are real and not an illusion in the United States, he told NBC Connecticut in his first interview since returning home.

"Ultimately, Charlottesville became another platform, another manifestation," Bennett said. "But it could happen anywhere in the country including here in Connecticut, including here in Bridgeport."

Bennett, who is the pastor of the Mount Aery Baptist Church, arrived in Charlottesville on Friday afternoon after answering a call for clergy from around the country to travel to Virginia to counter-protest the white nationalist rally. In the evening, he attended an interfaith service.

"We could not leave the sanctuary," Bennett said. "Because the white nationalists, the men and some women, white, had the torches and they were near the front of the sanctuary."

The next day Bennett said he could hear their chants more clearly.

"Jews will not replace us, blacks will not replace us, immigrants will not replace us," Bennett said, recalling the chants he heard on Saturday.

The armed white supremacist demonstrators are to blame for the violence, Bennett told NBC Connecticut. He recalled police not reacting quickly enough as the clashes intensified.

"We all yelled, you got to do something because literally, blood was coming out of the face, the mouths of some of the counter protestors," Bennett said.

Contrary to his scripted statement on Monday, President Donald Trump "went rouge," according to a senior White House official when he spoke about the unrest in Charlottesville on Tuesday while answering reporters’ questions.

"The other group didn't have a permit so I only tell you this there are two sides to a story," Trump said. "I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country."

Senator Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday there is, "no moral equivalence" between the white nationalist and the counter-protesters.

"No fine people carry swastikas or burn torches or shout epithets and spew hatred in the way that the white supremacist and neo-Nazis and KKK members did in Charlottesville," Blumenthal said.

In New Haven, a group of clergy gathered to sound the alarm on the racism they saw on display in Charlottesville.

"We who are a part of the religious body have a moral obligation to begin to sound the alarm to our community," Rev. Boise Kimber said.

The clergy also questioned the president’s ability to represent all Americans and not just the citizens who voted for him.

"Unfortunately, he’s not making America great again, he is making our problems even more difficult," Bishop Charles H. Brewer Jr. said.

"He’s part of the problem," Kimber said. "He started this problem when he was running for president."

Connecticut GOP chairman J.R. Romano said the president could have been more, "articulate and delicate" in addressing the tragedy in Charlottesville.

"In those statements he condemned racism," Romano told NBC Connecticut. "The KKK and all those things and I do as well. Every Republican does again those aren't our values, those aren't American values."

Bennett also reacted to the president’s unscripted remarks from Tuesday's press conference. 

"They speak to the truth of what Dr. Maya Angelou said, when people show you who they are, believe them, yesterday was who Donald Trump is," he said.

The diverse group of people who showed up to counter-protest the white nationalist rally gives Bennett some hope, he said, but he still has his concerns about race relations in the country.

"I think white America’s inability to look at itself and to look at its painful past is what prevents us from moving forward," Bennett said.

Bennett called the deadly car attack on Saturday an act of domestic terrorism. He said Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed, should be honored as a hero.

More than a thousand people gathered in a Charlottesville theater Wednesday to remember Heyer.

"They tried to kill my daughter to shut her up," her mother said. “Guess what?You just magnified her."

You can watch NBC Connecticut’s entire interview with Pastor Bennett here.

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