Emmy-nominated journalist Nora Neus is here to discuss her illuminating new book 24 Hours in Charlottesville: An Oral History of the Stand Against White Supremacy. Nora explains why she didn’t interview white nationalists for the book, how she found her subjects and sources, and how she navigated objective versus subjective truth while telling this story. We also talk about how language sanitizes white supremacy.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we welcome Nora Neus, a freelance journalist and Emmy-nominated producer and writer. In 2017, Nora field produced Anderson Cooper’s CNN coverage of the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist riots. Her new book 24 hours in Charlottesville, an oral history of the stand against white supremacy gives a gripping account of these events as told by the people who were there. Nora shares the stories of activists, faith leaders, students, city officials, and others whose recollections and insights bring those horrific 24 hours into focus. Today Nora shares with me the details of compiling an oral history. The reason she didn’t interview white supremacists for this book, and what things surprised her as she sat down to have these conversations. Remember the stacks book club pick for August is you made a fool of death with your beauty, which we will discuss on August 30th with Sam Sanders. Reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. Want more of the stacks, you can join the stacks pack over on Patreon. It’s just $5 a month and when you join you have access to our monthly virtual book club hangs the stacks pack discord, and the stacks bonus episodes. Plus you get to know that your support makes the show possible. So head to patreon.com/the stacks to join. Shout out to our newest members of the sax pack. Liz winter Alvarado, Kelsey Kennedy Leanna stone Bradley Chelsea hannifin and SIG Kia Talbert, thank you all so much for joining and thank you again to the entire stacks pack. I say this all the time, but it is 1,000% True, there would be no the stacks without the support of the stacks back on Patreon. All right, now it is time for my conversation with Nora Neus.
Alright, everybody, I am thrilled. I’m joined by Nora Neus, who is the author of 24 hours in Charlottesville an oral history of the stand against white supremacy. And if you are listening to this show, you know, I fucking love oral history and this one, it did not disappoint. It is slim. But holy cow it packs a punch. Nora, welcome to the Stacks.
Nora Neus 2:26
Thank you so much for having me.
Traci Thomas 2:28
I’m so excited to talk to you. So just for folks, I think that the title of the book is like very self explanatory, but I always start here. So in about 30 seconds or so will you tell people about your book?
Nora Neus 2:40
Sure. So the book is the story behind the news reports that most people saw of the 2017 white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. And it really does take readers moment by moment through the main 24 hours of that day, which started actually Friday afternoon, August 11, with the photos of those videos of that torch rally of we have white nationalists and Neo Nazis carrying flaming torches through the University of Virginia’s campus through the end of the day on Saturday. But it’s also a bit of a misnomer, because the book also does cover this larger context of white supremacy and racism within Charlottesville, but also within America.
Traci Thomas 3:29
Where did you get the idea to write the book and, and more specifically, in this way, as an oral history?
Nora Neus 3:37
So August 12 2017, I was in Charlottesville, I was there for about a week. And I would say August 17, I had the idea to write an oral history of what happened. And I actually pitched a story. I was working at CNN at the time, and I pitched a story to CNN to write a short kind of online oral history at that point of how the local news media was covering August 12. And how they were impacted. And it the pitch was rejected. So I never wrote that story. But I always had that idea in the back of my head. There’s there’s an incredible, incredible oral history of 911 called the plane in the sky.
Traci Thomas 4:20
We did it on the show. Okay. Garrett Graff.
Nora Neus 4:23
Phenomenal. Yes. Yes, for absolutely phenomenal. And I read the politico article that it was based on years earlier. And then the book came out recently and I knew Garrett through CNN, and so there was that kind of overlap. And, you know, we can talk about this more, but I actually ran into him. I know who he was. He had no idea who I was to be clear, but i i At the time, but I ran into him flush stalked him a little bit outside of the green room one day after I decided to officially write this book, and just said Hi, um, I’m reading this book. And it’s kind of basically like, based on your book. Do you have any advice and he was very gracious. And we talked through stuff. And that started kind of this friendship that he’s been so lovely. He wrote a review for the book. And it’s just wonderful.
Traci Thomas 5:16
Yeah. Yeah, I really loved him. I mean, similarly to you don’t to talk about Garrett, I said, Gosh, rocker, but I read the book being like, oh, read this, we’ll see. And then I loved it so much that I was like, he must come on the podcast, which is exactly what he did with your book. And he’s been so kind ever since he always talks about how much he loves the show. And always, he’s just like a really nice guy. And he gave a great interview. And I just I that book for people who even are like remotely interested in oral history between 24 hours in Charlottesville and the only plane in the sky. If you like American, recent American history and having a lot of anxiety as you read. I highly recommend both.
Nora Neus 5:55
Thank you. Thank you.
Traci Thomas 5:57
I feel like as I was reading your book, I was like, Oh, my God, I hate Nora. And I love Nora. Mostly, I hate the police was the big one for me. But we’ll get there. Don’t worry. Okay. Why did you want to tell this story like so soon after it’s happened.
Nora Neus 6:16
It’s funny that you say so soon, because I think in a lot of ways, I feel like oh, my gosh, six years have passed. And I think a big part of why I wanted to write the book was it felt like we already as a society, we’re forgetting what happened. Or maybe we never really knew. President Trump made his both sides comments about the white nationalists a couple of days later. And that’s what drove the news source as that’s what drove the news cycle. And our public memory of the event, and then the incredible vice documentary came out, that gave this unprecedented look into the white nationalists side of the story, which we will also I imagined. But there really hadn’t been a definitive account from the activist perspective. Part of that is because it was a real challenge to get activists to be willing to talk about what happened, because there were some very real safety and security concerns and some really serious trust, you know, rightly so trust issue the media. But But to go back to your question, I think I saw my peers in national media and mainstream media, not necessarily understanding what really happened in Charlottesville, de and that summer, especially in the proper context. This was not a story of white nationalists coming out of nowhere, it’s uprising, the town and then overrunning town. And then oh, no, we didn’t know. And that is not what happened. It is also wrong to say, oh, my gosh, this was this isn’t Charlottesville? These are people from outside of town. Sure. Okay. Most of the white nationalists that day perpetrating violence were from out of town. But Charlottesville had a long history of racism and white supremacy, right. And so I think correcting some of the record around those questions. And also for myself, and for my own understanding of what happened was, was really a big part of the motivation.
Traci Thomas 8:33
I’m going to, I don’t know, you said a lot of things I wanted to talk about later in the interview. So I’m going to just pick one and go there. And then we’ll circle back to whatever. But I want to start with just the language. So in the beginning of the book, you kind of tell us like a little bit about your process, you give us a little intro, you clarify some things about, you know what you’re going to do what you’re not going to do, and you talk about like. So like, for example, there are some parks in Charlottesville that have had name changes since the events in 2017. And so you said like, we’re going to call them these names, like, we’re not going to call them the old names, we’re not going to call them the newest, newest names, we’re going to call them you know, like, whatever. So you had to make some editorial decisions. And one of the things you talked about is the language used around the white nationalists and how some people call them Nazis and some people call them white supremacist, and the people called them fascists and whatever. And you stuck with that language, whatever people use, but was that like, how difficult was that decision for you around how to name those people? I guess at all, because I was shocked that it was in there, I think is what my question is like, I thought I assumed you would just use whatever people said, but I’m wondering why it was something you wanted to like call attention to spam.
Nora Neus 9:42
Interesting. Yeah, it actually was very difficult. And I think language I mean, I’m probably biased. I’m a writer, but language has an enormous power in sanitizing white supremacy and and hate And we saw this, we see this in Charlottesville. We’ve seen this throughout history, but it for the white nationalist movement. For example, White Nationalism is a term coined by the white supremacists. It was coined by Richard Spencer, who was a UVA alum who was attempting to oversimplification but make it okay to be racist. And said, Well, I’m not a white supremacist, I’m a white nationalist. And that was a way of of sanitizing their position. I had some run ins with some of these guys, I didn’t write about this in the book, because it was kind of outside the purview. But I was at a big white nationalist gathering covering it, but a year later, and said something kind of in anger, which I’m not supposed to do as a journalist, but I was having this conversation with a white nationalist, said something about your white supremacist, like you just you all are white supremacist, and he got really mad at me, and was like I am. And I think that I think truly believed what he was saying. He said, Well, I’m not I just want and then went on a rant that I’m not going to repeat about what he saw as lack of equality and opportunities. So the language is also used as a recruiting tactic. If we don’t call these people racist, white supremacists, Neo Nazis, which many of them were wearing T shirts with swastikas and Hitler on them and hate groups, then we aren’t being accurate in describing them. And at the same time, those words all mean different things. The language is important, and is not a small thing. And it really does play into how these groups are proceeding.
Traci Thomas 11:51
So if you hadn’t stuck with the language that people in the book use to describe them was the other option to just every time someone said neo Nazi or white supremacist to just insert white nationalists, like what was your other option going to be? T
Nora Neus 12:04
There wasn’t a great one, the term the term that I do not use, without a qualification, it’s alt right? The alt right is a co opting and complete obfuscation of of what these people believe. So that is a term that I don’t use, but I did allow people to use on it, when I’m talking about it myself, just in conversation, and I think as you will see, in this conversation, sometimes I will use words interchangeably, or more to mean different things. But a lot of the book, the process in terms of the oral history, was allowing people to have the most agency and telling their own story, while at the same time, not allowing someone to lie. Using language is the gray area. But those are all conversations I was having with myself.
Traci Thomas 12:58
Right. Okay, this is my big question. And I think probably every interview you do, will ask you some version of this question, which is, in the introduction you lay out, we’re going to hear from all sorts of voices, but you purposely did not put any voices from the neo Nazi white supremacist, white nationalist faction. And, and because you didn’t want to give like oxygen to their ideas and their thinking, etc, sort of how you laid it out, like they’ve had enough attention in the media, and you didn’t want to give them. But my question for you is, why not include their voices, but not? Not their opinions, but like logistically to like help lay the scene? Or did you feel like as a human being, you didn’t want to have to sit down and listen to the rest and then like, have to edit through it to get like we turned left on State Street, like, because I just, I’m just I’m really curious about like, how you made that decision, and maybe what you felt like that would add to the book, and also maybe what you felt like you would lose in the book by omitting those voices.
Nora Neus 14:01
Yeah. So the boundary I drew for myself, and that I would recommend that other journalists draw is I use white nationalists, white supremacist language and words that they had written or published that have already been out there. So from court cases, things caught on video that they have said some of the leaked discord chats, but I did not go out and interview any and do and do my own interviews just for this project. I have spoken to white nationalists plenty before more than more than I would like to but this is a this is a very kind of key tenet of anti fascism, which is that to platform fascists in in almost any way is counteractive to the collective project of overcoming fascism. And that’s a lot of big words to say like they like it when we interview them. Got it. So it’s also not even about what we published necessarily. It’s like, oh, well, an Emmy nominated journalists came today to talk to me about my views. And they can use that as their own recruiting tool, their own propaganda tool. And then no matter what we publish, even if I just was publishing logistical information, it would turn into a guarantee you propaganda of what what, how well organized, we were, we really navigated quite well. And it’s like, that wouldn’t further the book, in my, my respect to that wouldn’t make the book any more interesting or, or, or more accurate. And I did quote from them, where I had to find things that were already out there, but I’m not creating fresh material for them.
Traci Thomas 15:57
Yeah. And then on the flip side of that you mentioned, and throughout the book, there’s a few activists who use like, their initials instead of their names and stuff. And you mentioned like it’s for their own safety. And I don’t know if this you don’t have to answer this if this is not safe. But what are the safety concerns about speaking to you about a book like this? Like, what are the still current six year later? Fears in the activist community in Charlottesville? Around? What happened?
Nora Neus 16:27
Yeah, I mean, on a on a very-
Traci Thomas 16:30
Yeah, don’t do details. But yeah, oh, no, no,
Nora Neus 16:32
But I will, but from a very, like, hypothetical specific example, they’re worried that someone is going to show up at their house with a shotgun and kill them and their children in front of them. I mean, like that it that is the worry, the worry is, is right,
Traci Thomas 16:45
but but just because they spoke to you, or who
Nora Neus 16:49
would be defining information. So there was, um,
Traci Thomas 16:55
I know, it’s kind of hard to talk about talking about it.
Nora Neus 16:59
There was one person an individual who, in the course of telling the story, mentioned a family member that they had not previously disclosed, was there. And originally, I think this is also goes back to like the kind of the responsibility of, of journalism in my position. They got so into telling me the story or what happened, and they didn’t realize that it was until after the fact where I was like, Hey, I’m looking into this more. And I’m realizing he’s never said that before. I just want to like flag that. And then we’re incredibly, incredibly concerned. So there’s things like that. But there also are continued threats to activist This is not something that’s like over took years for the statues to be resolved. Try the federal trial against Jason Kessler only finished about a year ago, there are still very active threats to a lot of these activists. Some of them have had to spend time in safe houses. Some of them have had their addresses and phone numbers separately, certainly phone numbers, but but home addresses posted on white nationalist forums. So there’s a there’s very real concerns.
Traci Thomas 18:14
Yikes. How did you find your subjects and other people you spoke to? And also, you mentioned that you pay them? And I guess that’s standard practice in oral history. So can you talk about, you know how you find them, but also, as a journalist who doesn’t pay your subjects? What if you notice maybe a difference in the kinds of conversations you were able to have when there was exchange of money? We talk a lot about on this. We’ve had a lot of journalists on the show, we talk a lot about like, the ethics of journalism, and almost every journalist is like, it’s not great. Like there’s there’s some question marks certain times so I’m just curious if you didn’t notice anything or anything stood out to you about, about paying someone versus not?
Nora Neus 19:01
Yeah. So I found a lot of people because I was a local news reporter in Charlottesville, I had a lot of these contacts and sources already. And then there was a kind of a network effect, especially when word got out that I was working on this project that people were willing to talk to me on paying people. I had never paid a source for anything for information for anything. While I was a journalist while I am a journalist as a journalist, but that is common practice in oral history interviews, mostly because, and this is I can get on a whole soapbox here. But oral history is an indigenous tradition. That is by its kind of definition, a way of passing down stories among people who may not have access to other means or who’s who historically did not have access to other means. And a lot of the people that I was interviewing were people who work multiple jobs, who don’t have have free time that’s sitting around people who don’t have access to other methods of telling their story, they’re not getting booked on CNN. And also, so many projects have come through Charlottesville. So many journalists have come through Charlottesville asked me for pupils to unpaid labor, that often falls on women of color, and especially amongst this activist group. And so I was starting to feel ethically weird about the idea of not compensating people, when I was asking for hours and hours of their time to relive one of the most traumatic moments of their life. That said, I did not see a single difference in the conversations with folks that I paid or didn’t pay.
Traci Thomas 20:52
We should say you didn’t pay politicians,
Nora Neus 20:55
I did not pay to politicians, there was a couple. There were quite quite a few actually, folks who, and I think I mentioned this in the introduction to the book, donated their pay to a nonprofit or something if they felt like they didn’t want to take it, or directed it toward other survivors. And I was very clear upfront that I was compensating them for their time. They still had no ability to dictate what I put in the book, they still had to tell me the truth. And of course, that’s a larger conversation to have, like, when is someone telling you the truth? And what is the truth and we can get into that. But they were still not going to see a transcript before published, they were not going to get a recording of their call with me. They were not going to get any access beyond the the conversation. So I think setting those boundaries was really important. But no, I, I didn’t see any difference, other than there were certain individuals who straight up said, I had to like take off two hours of work for this. And I like wouldn’t have been able to do that if you weren’t paying me my time. So I ended up with a greater diversity of voices.
Traci Thomas 22:10
Were there any people that you tried to get that you couldn’t get?
Nora Neus 22:13
Yes, there were a lot of people that I wanted, and I couldn’t get and there were even more people who offered and who I didn’t have bandwidth and space for. I mean, I could have interviewed 1000s of people for this book. The big one was the chief of police,
Traci Thomas 22:28
Love to hear from him was waiting for him.
Nora Neus 22:31
Yes I have a mail tracker on my email. So I can see when people opened my email. He did I mean, he read he absolutely read my email multiple times and received it and so
Traci Thomas 22:47
did you try to get Biden or Trump?
Nora Neus 22:49
I didn’t. And that was also a discussion. President Trump is mentioned extremely few. Any in the book, I think he’s mentioned once or twice as just the idea of this animating principle and context around what happened. But the both sides comment was not made until like days later. And I really wanted to focus on that period of what actually happened. Right. 11th and 12.
Traci Thomas 23:14
Right, I was only thinking that because I know that like Biden, you know, he wasn’t obviously there. But we know that he watched live or whatever. And, and that’s like the thing that inspired him to run for the presidency, allegedly. I don’t know if that meets your truth test or not. Doesn’t personally meet mine. But I just wasn’t sure if there was any like, Oh, I’d love to hear from people who weren’t there. But maybe we’re watching from a distance or something like that.
Nora Neus 23:42
Yes. And I definitely have that thought interviewing, you know, descendants of Holocaust survivors who are watching it on TV or victims of other domestic terror attacks, watching it on TV, national journalists, in their control rooms and newsrooms seeing it play out and making decisions in real time. And in the end, I decided to focus more narrowly, just because I could have written this book a million different ways. Yeah. And I could have written it. I mean, it’s my first draft was almost four times as long as you Yeah. Which I knew is too long, but I’m gonna work. And that was my editor, my editor, Katherine Tang, at Beacon Press, very specifically said this is the word count, I want you to hit. This is such a hard thing to read about. You got you got a little snippet of people’s time and mental energy here and you want to keep it moving. And so it was way shorter than I would have would have done. So it feels more like a representative sampling than it does a thorough everyone’s perspective retelling.
Traci Thomas 24:52
I will say this and people who know me and know the show will understand that this is one of the highest compliment I can pay someone Okay, I actually wish this book was longer. Wow. And I never will. I mean, I loved it. I think I personally think it is the perfect length for 99% of people. I like dark fucked up American history moments. So for me, I’m like, I could have done four times longer just because I like I read all three waco books this year, like, I’m just, that’s who I am. But I was like, I could I could do like six months after Charlottesville I could do like, Where would they? Like I could have done like, but the point is, it’s that good. It’s the exact perfect length, I think for basically everyone else. And I think your editor was smart to tell you that. But I did when I finished the book, I was like, could have done more.
Nora Neus 25:44
Yeah, I like flash and burn Highland through the red pen. And just Well, I think that’s right, plus
Traci Thomas 25:49
it because it’s such an intense reading experience. And I can only imagine. For you, I guess that is a question that I have for you like, how did you take care of yourself? Because you you know, every single person you interviewed, and you yourself lived through this day locally in Charlottesville, because you were there. But there’s my assumption would be there’s something different between living through an experience one time that that you see versus carrying 3040 50 people’s experience of this one day, like how were you able or were you able to take care of yourself, as you were hearing all of this stuff, and then kind of digesting it and cutting it and putting it all together? I mean, you’re spending hours and hours with this material. But it’s not easy.
Nora Neus 26:42
Could have done more, I will I will say that. So I was in Charlottesville this weekend. But I only arrived after the bulk of the fighting. I arrived in town after Heather was killed. And my memories of the weekend are extremely triggering and traumatic, especially my memories earlier in that summer and the kind of year leading up to this when a lot of the conversation was going on, but nothing near what people other people experienced. That said, I mean, just on a personal level, like two weeks into reading this book, my nightmares came back about August 12. And I hadn’t had nightmares about it in years. That was something I thought I had like kind of worked through. So that was alarming. That was alarming. That was like two weeks in like okay, we’re gonna have we’ve, we’ve a wild ago. But I think there is something really powerful about being able to confront it head on and feel the importance and the depth of the story and the trauma of the community. And I had a lot of folks. I mean, almost everyone broke down in tears while we were talking. Multiple people had panic attacks, while we were like more than one person had a full blown panic attack while we were talking. I’m not a mental health professional. I need the help of mental health professionals. But I am not one of myself. And I think that was hard because I wanted to prioritize their mental health. Absolutely, at first and above any, you know, book like Congress. But almost every time when I offered to stop people, so they wanted to keep going, and that it felt cathartic. A lot of them said, you know, I’ve never been able to afford therapy. So I’ve never been to therapy, but like this feels like it. And again, I would say okay, but like, I’m not a mental health professional. So like, but there was something like really, I think healing and powerful about talking about it and thinking about it. And I think also like reclaiming the narrative to a certain effect. There were a lot of successes in the anti racist activists counter protest. I wish there had been more we all do. But there are still lessons to take away from this, about how to prevent this from happening.
Traci Thomas 29:28
You mentioned this, you brought this up a few times this like idea of truth and not wanting people to lie to you and not letting people lie to you. And there are parts in the book where someone says something that maybe is disputed or like their memory, you know, it’s not an intentional lie, but then in bold underneath, they’re like, well, they were actually on this street or like, well, actually, that was six months later, whatever not actually that but you Have these like, Hi, I’m Nora, I’m here to let you know, maybe what they said isn’t exactly correct. Or, or maybe it’s like, but someone else remember this differently or whatever. How did you decide what was truth? Were there times where you would interview someone? And then they would say, I went to the store and I bought chicken. And then someone else would be like, we had salmon for dinner. And then you went back to that person. They’re like, Okay, Sam said we had salmon, like, what’s going on here? Like, how much were you going back to people and kind of trying to get to the bottom of things? Or just like editing things out that you were like, well, that’s not what happened. And did you push back on people you felt like they were lying to you like, because it sounds like truth was really important to you. So how did you navigate that?
Nora Neus 30:46
I definitely pushed back. And I definitely kind of tried to deep dig deeper. I think very few people were outright lying. To me. I think there were questions of legitimately of memory from five years earlier at the point where I was in a traumatic event and a traumatic event Exactly. When memories may not be that strong. A lot of people I interviewed said, Well, you know, record lacrosse exact details and words and phrases that someone said to them, and that they said and then they have a 20 minute chunk that’s black, and then they remember instantly more. So that that kind of thing happened a lot. But I think there’s also this instinct from people who have told the same story multiple times. So especially like journalists, unfortunately, fall into this. Politicians, public figures, people who have recounted the story multiple times, where what you’re saying becomes truth, not because you’re trying to lie, but because you’ve said it so many times, and you think you remember something, and when I came across some of those moments, and I kind of drill down of like, okay, but like, in an interview the day after you said X, Y and Z since then you’ve described it this other way. But like the day of you said whatever, was a really helpful exercise, I think sometimes for the people, even when I was interviewing, because a lot of times they would say, Oh, I actually, huh, like, Let me think about that. And then there were definitely certain times where people just did lie to me, certain politicians, and I proved it. But I think for the most part, everything in the book is fact checked. To the extent that no one is factually incorrect. I didn’t let anyone be factually incorrect, to a degree that I knew about. That wasn’t unchallenged and wasn’t checked. But there are places where multiple people remember a situation different, right? And where that is allowed to exist in that tension.
Traci Thomas 33:02
Yeah, and I think you do a good job in a lot of those places of like putting those differing memories or differing opinions side by side so that the reader can like see that, because I think that’s helpful, as a reader to know, like, this isn’t undisputed fact, this is memory opinion perspective. So I find that I always find that really helpful in oral history when like, things are kind of stacked on top of each other where it’s like, you know, okay, we don’t all agree, but the general like, there are some things that we do all agree on. And that’s also, you know, in here,
Nora Neus 33:41
That was something I actually had a lot of, that I cut out of this longer draft, I had way more of multiple people saying the same thing, because I felt like it was important to prove that or like, show that. And that was a huge amount of what I cut was, if I know it’s true, let them let it be through and all flog the stuff that isn’t true, but I don’t need to have five people saying they were on extreme.
Traci Thomas 34:07
Right, right. I feel like for me, I mean, the part that it was the most powerful and like that really stuck with me and made like all my little hairs on my arm stand up. I was taking a bath I like to read in the bath especially when it’s like an intense thing and I was like in the bath getting cold because I’d been like reading the whole book. I was like, I want to finish but when you get to the part with the car that culminates you know, in the murder of Heather hire and the injury of so many people, a lot of the people that we’ve been following this entire time and up you know, on that street kind of blocked in when the car comes down and there’s this part where you like everybody’s talking about the sound or like what they hear and like this, like rumbling and the boom and it’s just like, so I’m getting chills right now. It is so visceral. And it is so terrifying as a reader six years later, and I know what happened, right? Like it’s not like this is a surprise. It’s isn’t a novel, like, I’ve seen the images, you know, but just like the way that you put it all together, and like, took the it’s like, a lot of the lines are just like three words from this person or like a sentence from this person or just like boom, boom, boom or whatever. And like, I mean, I’m like getting hot, like overwhelmed. But like, I understand why you cut it because it adds to the book. But when you do do it, it is just so it’s so powerful. So like, I think I think you did a really good job of like deciding when to have that kind of emphasis and when when not to thank you. I appreciate that. Well, of course, of course, deserves praise. I want to talk about the police. Okay. You know, I don’t know that this is a spoiler. I think, given all the images we’ve seen from that weekend, police weren’t really present in a way that was helpful to mitigate antagonism, and, and not to be trumped. But I will say on both sides, they could have been protecting or preventing on either side, at a certain point, like they were just sort of standing around, right, like not that either not that the activist side needed, you know, they were within their rights, but I just mean, like, they could have at some point stepped in between both sides or like, you know, not anything, they could have done anything. That’s what I mean, again, I’m not actually Trump, fuck, white nationalist, supremacist, etc. You all know the vibe, but they could have done anything they could have stepped in, they did not. You don’t get to talk, we don’t get to hear from the chief of police. As you mentioned, there’s also a city manager who is not my favorite person on the face of the earth, certainly. But I guess the bigger question is, after all of this, after seeing all this, three years later, we get to summer 2020. There’s all these protests, there’s all this activism around race, around the death of George Floyd, but also, like, I think some pent up emotion and and things from from Charlottesville from having, you know, from Trump’s presidency from the 1930s. Like, there’s there’s a lot of racial, you know, built up shit in America. And it really comes bubbling up in 2020. And I’m wondering, as a person who is working on this book, at that time, I think you said you started, you know, thinking about this book, so at least it’s in your mind. What do you feel like? All of this, given this framework says to you about policing? Like, did you feel like you learned a lesson in reporting this? Do you feel like there was something that like, changed in your relationship to the police or anything like that? I don’t know. It’s sort of a crazy, weird question. But there’s something there in my brain.
Nora Neus 37:53
I think what’s hard to answer about that, is that, unfortunately, we have seen and I have seen so many other instances of police brutality, like, I’m not surprised. And I guess maybe that’s what I would say is that this is a form of police brutality, right. inaction in the face of extreme feeding of counter protesters. I think I’ve never really said it that strongly. But I think I believe I think that that is a form of police brutality and police violence and protecting choosing who you protection who you do not. And I cannot imagine a teeming mass of people of color on the streets of downtown Charlottesville horse Mott. Yeah, allow it to. I mean, get there in the first place, right.
Traci Thomas 38:45
I mean, that’s that crazy story of the guy who has the fire in his in the picture the black guy for a long Yeah, yeah. And, and for people who remember the weekend and the images from television, Cory is friends with the guy who ends up getting beaten in the parking lot, which is like one of the most that was one of the things I remember most about that weekend before reading the book. But it’s two black guys and there’s like a aerosol can and some fire and he’s like, kind of spraying it in the direction of-
Nora Neus 39:22
A homemade flame thrower. Yeah, which sounds more intense. It was it was an aerosol can have. I think it was hairspray but don’t quote me on that and a flame. Right. And he’s
Traci Thomas 39:30
like, spraying it at a group of like, white nationalists headed his way. And there’s a gun shot involved in this moment. But there’s a picture that gets fired by by the white, white. Sorry, fired by the white nationalist but this picture is of Corey holding the flame thrower towards the white nationalist and he gets in trouble by the law.
Nora Neus 39:55
So that is absurd and ridiculous to all steps. farther DeAndre Harris who is the friend in the parking garage who was beaten and bloodied within an inch of his life? Truly almost died that day was later charged with disorderly? I think I should, I should I should know this exactly. It was charged with a crime later and there was a big public outcry related to that incident. He was the only one that was charged. And that was a that’s hard. It ended up being dropped in there was a big public outcry on that. But who we choose to police, right? The only two women arrested that day, the only two people arrested that day were two women who had their tits out to protest counter protesters.
Traci Thomas 40:42
That’s insane. We’re, I know that there was a big trial about like, liability, right? Like who like were the white nationalists responsible for this? Similarly to January 6, were a lot of people white nationalists, who were there were they arrested ever like, was there a fallout from not the organizers, but the like? Everyday Nazis in there?
Nora Neus 41:07
Yeah. So everyday Nazis. That’s sad. But yes, there was this kind of citizen led justice movement, just like there was after January 6, where people were literally just tweeting pictures of these guys saying, like, someone has to know this guy. Here’s another angle of them. Oh, someone’s daughter’s kid like knows that guy. And then they would report them to their workplaces, some of them will get arrested. I don’t think all that many have gotten arrested. I should double check on that, at this point where it stands six years later, but for I mean, for a period of time later, they were still being kind of found and tracked down. People were losing their jobs. And there were also others who weren’t. And then we’re storming the Capitol on January 6,
Traci Thomas 41:49
is that is there? Like, are there people who are places?
Nora Neus 41:53
Yes, there is a Charlottesville city employee, who was a January 6 writer, an IT employee in charge of the computer systems in Charlottesville. And when the city found out, they did not fire him. First Amendment right. That’s so yeah.
Traci Thomas 42:12
I as I said, I’m very interested in recent American history that involves dark, dark times. And I follow this closely because I have a friend in Virginia, like I was watching, he was like, there’s something going on, like you should pay attention. So I was paying attention day of big days off both days. Something that I completely missed in the story was the helicopter. Yes. Can you tell folks about that?
Nora Neus 42:38
Yes. Okay. So this is part of the story. That is where it goes from weird to like, really weird. So from the from the perspective of the local media and the media that day, we get this call. So Heather has been killed, things are starting to die down. We get this call that the helicopter transporting the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe has crashed. He’s coming to town for a press conference, which we knew, and the helicopter has crashed. And we mean, I was texting with my journalist friends at the local station, which I had quit like a month earlier. And they were scrambling crews out to go cover that. There was a good 20 minutes where we genuinely thought the governor of Virginia had just been killed. And it seemed crazy to think that someone had shot down the plane that helicopter but also like, not that crazy, like they just killed them on the street.
Traci Thomas 43:32
And they had been weaponed, they were heavily on heavily
Nora Neus 43:37
I mean, they could I think they could, they could they could, I don’t think that’s like that far of a stretch. And what I didn’t know going into this, but all of the aides and the governor’s wife were all calling him trying to call him and no one could get through to him. Which of course, contributed to the fact everyone thought he was dead. Turned out. It was a different helicopter. It was Virginia State helicopter. It was kind of like Air Force One where like, whatever helicopter the guy is traveling in is his helicopter. It had so he traveled in this other helicopter before his helicopter was fine. He landed, got to the ground and realized that he had been falling and following the news so much all day that his cell phone died on the helicopter. And he saw twice so he wasn’t answering I had no idea. They were like this. This was happening and ended up being totally fine. And kind of just like footnote in history, that these and I mean, to Virginia State Police officers were killed in that crash.
Traci Thomas 44:41
But it was not shot down. It was just a mechanical error. panicle error, just like wild coincidence that brought like more sort of fear and anxiety to a day that was filled with that. Okay, we’re gonna do sort of like, well, I guess this is one question. Is there anything that’s not in the work that you wish was?
Nora Neus 45:02
Hmm. I mean, I think there’s a whole other book to be written. And that has been written many times over. But about the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, I went to UVA. I was a Jefferson Scholar. I went to Monticello million times. I jet agico hit a class on the history of UVA. I took a class on the history of Jefferson. I got A’s. I had never read the line that I put in the beginning of the book where he is being Jefferson is being blatantly white supremacist. Of course, we knew this, like, I knew that I knew the story of Sally Hemings. I knew. But it’s not like you have to take a leap. It’s not like that he could jump you don’t have to take a leap from he’s just said it himself, like very explicitly. I just think there’s, there’s more distinction that needs to happen there.
Traci Thomas 46:03
Yeah. Did you ever read Abram Kennedy’s big book stamp from the beginning? You know, he has Thomas Jefferson is like one of his five pillars like one of his architects. Yeah, I mean, Thomas Jefferson. Bad dude. Yeah, in a lot of ways. I know a founding father, whatever. I’m Black doesn’t really speak to me in the same way. But not a great guy. I want to ask you about the cover. Sure, can you walk folks kind of through it who haven’t seen it yet and sort of explain like how it came to be or what your how, if you were part of the process or not.
Nora Neus 46:40
I was part of the process, probably in kind of an annoying way to the design team. I on my other books, and like I have always tried to be like, I’m not a designer, you guys do what you want to do. But I felt really strongly about this cover. Because the weapons have the images have been so weaponized. And the terrifying photos of the white nationalists with their, their faces, beads and torch light, are often used as propaganda. The photo of the car attack, which my good friend Brian took, and then ended up winning a pillar prize for is the moment of death for how to hire and the moment of injury for so many others. Those images so often are used as shortcuts to say, Oh, this is Charlottesville. But also none not one of those images represents the true the truth of what happened in Charlottesville. I felt very strongly that we did not I did not want to have a photo on the cover of the book. I night and we have no photos in the book. There’s not like a centerfold of, you know, nice color photos from that from that week. And that was important in part to give readers coming into it a blank canvas to approach it. The one kind of not so funny, but maybe a little funny thing about the cover is when I got it back, there’s this, the cover is like a dark blue and has these big white chunky letters in the front. And there’s this like design element in it, that is an orange diamond. And that really is just a design element. And then to give it some visual interest. But the number of times I have seen things either purposely or accidentally include white supremacist or neo Nazi imagery in them. I was so scared I spent like, honestly days looking through the entire like Southern Poverty Law Center, hate groups symbol database, talking to scholars talking to an Tifa members just like triple quadruple checking that either accidentally, there wasn’t some diamond that meant something. But that also that there wasn’t like a secret closet of white nationalist designing the cover of this book, which I don’t know probably wasn’t ever going to happen. But just in case, you gotta be careful.
Traci Thomas 49:08
Is the is the background image? Is that a picture of anything? Or is that also just like design?
Nora Neus 49:13
I just design fall out of track? Got it? Okay.
Traci Thomas 49:18
My favorite question, how did you write this book? How many hours a day how often music or no home? Out snacks, beverages, rituals, and then I guess for for this case, I’m assuming you taped the interviews. So did you go back and listen to them? Did you work off transcriptions, like how did this sort of come from these interviews to the page and what were you doing to make that happen?
Nora Neus 49:45
I love this question because I’m always looking for ways to optimize my writing process. And to that end, I will say I will never do it again this way and I don’t recommend it. I was a local I’m sorry, not local anymore, but a news producer at CNN for almost six years. And I wrote this book while I was still working there. I got up at about 2am No, and worked my normal job from about 2am to noon, depending on the day, I came home and sometimes would nap. But often had to jump right into interviews, and then did interviews from and wrote this book from noon to six, ate dinner and went to sleep at eight. Again, don’t recommend that that shift was punishing. In terms of the actual writing of it. This is part of why I had a four times as long first draft. As I went, after I had a running timeline, a running document of the book from the very beginning. So day one, I had five quotes I knew I wanted to use put those in a document on it, every time I found new stuff, I would just pop it in one document, I would put everything in the same document where it kind of belonged. I would finish an interview, I would transcribe the whole thing. And then with both the recording and the transcription, would figure out what parts of it I wanted to put in the main document, I would put things in and then I would delete stuff as I went as I got, as I kind of, quote unquote, upgraded I got better to the same point. But I just built out this kind of scaffolding for the whole story and then figured out what to do with it.
Traci Thomas 51:41
Okay, when you’re working from 2am to 8pm What are your snacks and beverages?
Nora Neus 51:50
So much coffee, a lot of coffee? No cream and sugar. Okay? Dunkin Donuts, coffee, okay. And so this is kind of cheating. My spouse is an incredible Cook, like, phenomenal cook by trade are just passionate. No, just passion. They’re an attorney. It’s actually a great combination. They work super hard. And then they come home and feed you. Yeah, yeah. No, it’s great. I highly recommend it. And so a lot of times I would finish his interviews that like five or six, and would come out and they will have made me cool, incredible dinners that I don’t know Smith before. So not not a big no, but just like incredible dinners. I didn’t have to cook. That’s the dishes though. I do all the dishes.
Traci Thomas 52:41
That’s how we that’s the arrangement in my home. But I do the cooking and my husband does the dishes and all the cleaning. And it’s the only way I’m like I’m not making food if you’re not if someone else isn’t cleaning up doesn’t even have to be him could be anybody in the house complete? Um, is there a word that you can never spell correctly on the first try?
Nora Neus 53:00
Traci Thomas 53:03
Nora Neus 53:06
It came up twice today. Twice. Like I’m I just it was so many extra ks and w’s. I don’t know.
Traci Thomas 53:13
It’s the w’s for I’m like, why are you here? I don’t need now. At the time of us talking your book is not out in the world yet. But for folks listening at home, the book is out. I think this episode is coming out right around the sixth anniversary of Charlottesville. So that’s for people where we’re in this week. Do you have any idea what comes next for you? Do you have another book you want to work on? Or are you like taking a break from writing for now? You do.
Nora Neus 53:43
I do. So this was this is my second book published but my third sold. So my next book that’s coming out is a young adult graphic novel historical fiction, queer love story. Whoa, it is a departure. Yes. And my first book was also very intense and very serious about the Syrian civil war and involved kids getting buried alive. And so I needed to do something fun. Then I went right back into trauma. But this is a really fun story set in 1888 New York City and tells the story of an undercover journalist, teen girl journalist based on a true story, who infiltrates garment factories and exposes the horrific practices.
Traci Thomas 54:31
Whoa, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory basically. Yeah.
Nora Neus 54:35
So my part of that’s completely done. I mean, I finished that like almost two years ago and our incredible illustrator Julie rubine is finishing up the art so that will come out. I believe it is about a year and a half away. I think it’s like winter 2025
Traci Thomas 54:51
So exciting. Okay, well, we’ll keep people plugged in for when that happens. For people who read 24 hours in Charlottesville who love it, what is Another book that you might recommend to them that’s in conversation with what you’ve created.
Nora Neus 55:04
So definitely, the only plane in the sky is like aircraft is just another phenomena oral history, if that is a format that you’re new to, and that you’re excited about. Honest, super nerdy, academic level, which I won’t necessarily recommend to everyone. But there is a new book by a UVA Professor out called Making hashtag Charlottesville that just came out in May. And is this kind of draws these parallels between the media coverage of both unite the right which was the name of the August wealth rally, turned riot, and the civil rights movement. And there’s a really interesting lot of really interesting parallels there. It’s very academic, it’s not at all like a fun narrative read. But I just finished that. And the author of that is it quoted in my book, the ball.
Traci Thomas 56:04
Okay, last one. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book, who would you want it to be?
Nora Neus 56:14
It’s funny, because I would say President Trump, except at number one, I don’t think he could read the whole thing. But number two, I don’t think it would help. I think I think I would actually say Joe Biden, there was a lot of anger among Democrats in Charlottesville that he invoked their trauma and pain having never visited Charlottesville in running for office, and I would love for him to rebook.
Traci Thomas 56:44
Okay, so everyone, this has been a conversation with Nora Neus. She is the author of 24 hours in Charlottesville, an oral history of the stand against white supremacy, you can get this book wherever you get your books, it is out in the world. Now, I cannot emphasize enough what a terrifying and thrilling read and also sort of just a fantastic piece of oral history. And I hope that you’ll all read it and check it out. Nora, thank you so much for being here.
Nora Neus 57:12
Thank you so much.
Traci Thomas 57:14
And everyone else we will see you in the stacks.
All right. Well, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to Nora for being our guest. I’d also like to say a quick thank you to Bev Rivero for making this episode possible. Don’t forget Sam Sanders will be here for the Stacks book club on August 30th, when we will discuss You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty. If you love the show on on inside access to it, head to patreon.com/thestacks and join the stacks pack. Make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks wherever you get your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify leave us a rating and a review. For more from The Stacks, follow us on social media at thestackspod on Instagram threads and tiktok and at the stackspodunderscore on Twitter. And check out our website thestackspodcast.com. This episode of the stock was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me, Traci Thomas.
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