Former students speak about their encounters with violent acts of discrimination
Words and Photo Illustrations by Dan Goff.
Editor’s note: The author of this article searched through old Cavalier Daily articles and examined content related to racist events from the 1990s. This article contains material that may remind some readers of traumatic events.
“A few weeks ago, something happened to me I shall never forget.”
So begins Barbara Patterson’s Viewpoint article, “Magistrate fails to protect victims of racist neo-Nazi attack,” published in The Cavalier Daily April 7, 1993. Patterson was a fourth-year College student at the time. As the title suggests, her piece describes an attack instigated by neo-Nazis against two black men on the Corner, along with the legal action — or lack thereof — that followed it. The incident, witnessed by Patterson and her friend, took place within a week of the attempted murder of a Puerto Rican man. Both events were racially motivated, both of them took place in the spring of 1993 and both helped uncover a community of underground neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
According to the Viewpoint — essentially today’s op-ed — Patterson and her friend were walking through the Corner a little before midnight on a Saturday when they noticed a “tall, skinny white male walking towards [them].” Assuming he was drunk, Patterson tried to stay out of his way, but he “swerved his body” towards her and rammed into her, trying to knock her over “for no apparent reason.” She started to yell at him, but thought better of it. “Something told me … if I said anything to him, he might do something far worse than violently bump me with the side of his body.”
Then, they witnessed the attack. “It wasn’t until my friend and I saw the guy and a bunch of his friends jump two black men who were also innocently walking by the Corner that I realized the guy and his friends might be neo-Nazi skinheads looking to incite racial violence,” Patterson wrote. “I was right.”
If she needed further proof, Patterson watched as “virtually dozens of neo-Nazi newsletters” fell from one of the assailant’s pockets and “went flying out all over the sidewalk.”
The fight didn’t last long before policemen, “who were in the right area at the right time,” put a stop to it. Patterson and her friend explained the situation to the police and then accompanied the two black men who had gotten jumped to the police station so they could explain what had happened.
Once at the station, they repeated their story to the magistrate, whose response was “frustrating.”
“We … were told unless we were absolutely positive we could identify the men, there was nothing we could do,” Patterson wrote. The same was told to the two men involved in the attack. “Those two guys who were brutally jumped because they were black could have put away at least one or two of the neo-Nazis; but because of fear and a definite lack of encouragement on the part of the magistrate, the case was eventually dropped.”
“At that point,” Patterson wrote, “I started to get angry. I felt like the magistrate was subtly trying to dissuade us from taking action against the Nazis.”
Just “because someone is on the ‘side of the law’ and works for the police department doesn’t necessarily mean he is completely impartial and objective, even though he is supposed to be,” she said. “I firmly believe the magistrate used what little power he could to dissuade those two young men from pressing charges.”
Patterson wasn’t sure whether the magistrate was racially motivated not to act, but regardless, “the magistrate was condescending, intimidating and ultimately lacking in objectivity. In a town filled with so much racial and class tension, the last thing we need is a magistrate who is either lazy or racially insensitive.”
In her 26 years of post-grad life since the article’s publication, Patterson has made some major changes. A married woman, she goes by Barbara Roy. She lives with her family in California, where she works as a publicist for a small entertainment firm. Charlottesville and the University, which she attended from 1989 to 1993, are not often on her mind. Even some details of the incident have faded somewhat from her mind after a quarter of a century.
“I remember the incident very, very well … but the whole aftermath was much more hazy,” Roy said in a phone interview. The sensation of “feeling frustrated” was stuck in her mind, but she admitted that she didn’t “really remember” the magistrate as the source of that frustration.
Although the assault is not as clear in her mind as it once was, it has had lasting repercussions on her adult life. For one, Roy said, it helped her decide to leave the city after graduation.
“I had a nice little apartment that was close to the Corner, and I had come to really like Charlottesville,” she said. But after a conversation with her father — in which he encouraged her to move on — combined with the assault, she had to rethink her desire to stay.
“In many ways [the incident] sort of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Roy said. “It was right before graduation and it was a pretty eye-opening and upsetting experience … I was ready to leave.”
After leaving Charlottesville, Roy briefly returned to her birthplace of Massachusetts and then worked alternately in California and D.C., jumping from coast to coast until settling in California in 1998. She and her family have been to visit friends in D.C. a few times since then, Roy said, but she’s never returned to Charlottesville.
Staying away from her alma mater isn’t “that intentional,” she said. “It wasn’t one of those things where I was like, ‘I’m never going back there again.’ It’s definitely not that. Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been … But looking back on it now, I do have some mixed feelings about whether it was the right place for me culturally.”
An English major, Roy said she loved the academics at the University. But coming from a multicultural background — a Jamaican father, a British mother and what she called an “international” hometown — the University seemed “very racially segregated.”
Outright discrimination because of her race or gender was not common for Roy in her time as an undergrad, she explained, but she described sometimes “feeling like I had to prove myself intellectually, academically having a place … that I didn’t just get in because of the color of my skin.”
And although she didn’t frequently experience discrimination, she could still recall a specific instance. Either in her third or fourth year — the details are somewhat obscure in this case, as well — Roy went with friends to a “predominately white” frat party somewhere on Rugby Road and was met with a surprise.
“I remember a bunch of the guys were in blackface — the traditional, minstrel blackface aesthetic,” she said. “I do remember feeling kind of stunned, just stunned. Like, why are these guys doing this? … It just felt really wrong.”
The racism Roy experienced in the University community, whether subtle or explicit, did little to prepare her for the display of violence she witnessed on the Corner. She said that, prior to the incident, she was unaware of a neo-Nazi presence in Charlottesville. “That’s what was so strange about it … I had no idea that they were there.”
In her Viewpoint piece, Roy wrote that “it is imperative for students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” A similar thought was on her mind, she said, when she tuned into the news in August 2017. The attack she had witnessed was the first thing that came to her mind.
“These horrible people are descending on Charlottesville again,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
She acknowledged that August 11 and 12 constituted “way more of a horrific event” than her undergrad experience, but she couldn’t help but see the parallel.
“The fact that people kind of subscribe to this notion of white supremacy, racial purity, whatever whatever, that they feel empowered and emboldened to come to Charlottesville and really put together a large congregation of people who subscribe to that ideology,” she said. “It just really struck a chord and made me really sad.”
Roy’s article did not go into extensive detail about what was happening in the community. 1993 articles from The Daily Progress help provide more information about the incident and others like it.
In the March 12, 1993 article “Neo-Nazi, friend charged in separate acts of violence,” the local paper describes both the incident witnessed by Roy — which, according to the article, took place March 6 of that year — and another assault committed by a different neo-Nazi which took place March 11.
This latter event involved 19-year-old Eric Hoffman, a neo-Nazi who lived in Charlottesville at the time, and a Puerto Rican man who in the article is referred to only as Edgar to protect the identity of himself and his family. According to the article, Edgar, who was in his early 20s, had been receiving death threats from Hoffman and a few other men. These escalated to an invasion of Edgar’s home March 11, when Hoffman and two others held a gun to the Puerto Rican man’s head and attempted to kill him. Edgar was able to escape by using a gun of his own that he had recently bought for fear of his life, although he did not shoot anyone, and Hoffman was taken into custody under the charge of attempted murder.
This article also described the March 6 attack witnessed by Roy, which had not yet been reported on by The Daily Progress. According to the article, one man — 23-year-old Christopher Andrew Tolley — was arrested that night on the Corner and taken into custody.
Tolley, a self-described “Nazi and a semi-active skinhead,” argued his innocence in the incident. He denied the claim made against him that he had been handing out pamphlets for “The New Order,” a Lincoln, Nebraska-based white supremacist group founded by infamous neo-Nazi Gary Lauck. Instead, he said, he was helping another man pick up papers on the Corner “when he was hit from behind by two black men.”
The paper provided a quote from Tolley in which he attempted to prove his innocence. “‘I may be a bit crazy, but I’m not stupid,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to attack two big black guys.’”
Both incidents, however, clearly had some level of racial motivation. When Hoffman and his accomplices broke into Edgar’s home, the Puerto Rican man quoted Hoffman as saying, “‘You are all s–cs and we’re white, and it won’t stick.’”
The two men also knew each other. Tolley was visiting Hoffman from out of town and had been staying at his apartment at the time of his arrest.
The day after the article describing these two attacks was published, The Daily Progress ran a follow-up piece entitled “Police: Band of neo-Nazis is formed.” The article claimed that “a small band of neo-Nazi skinheads has organized in the Charlottesville area and may be responsible for a growing number of what could be racially motivated attacks on minorities.”
This information was provided by Detective Robert Frazier, who at the time had been monitoring local neo-Nazi activity. “‘There are about 10 to 15 local skinheads in the area right now,’” Frazier said in the article. Some of them were apparently even younger than the 19-year-old Hoffman — a teenage eyewitness to the March 6 attack claimed “he recognized some of the skinheads” as his classmates at Albemarle High School.
The police department had received reports that the skinheads were practicing “military-style drills” in various parts of the city, but at the time of the article’s publication, these were not confirmed. Frazier did say, however, that the Charlottesville neo-Nazis were the “foot soldiers of the Nazi party.” He also said of the group, “They are trying to ignite a white revolt.”
Roy’s Viewpoint piece was the first of several articles published by The Cavalier Daily which addressed the neo-Nazi activity in Charlottesville. News briefs describing rallies like “Concerned Black Students,” organized by the Black Student Alliance, were published, along with a variety of Viewpoint pieces concerning race relations in the student community.
Alfred Toole — who, at the time, was a second-year in the college and vice chair for programs in the Black Student Alliance — published one such piece on April 23, 1993. Entitled “Voice of concern for every student,” the article described a few different University-oriented issues, with the March 6 attack at its center, and how the BSA dealt with each of them.
“In the case of the neo-Nazis,” Toole wrote, “many people will blow them off. In a few weeks, the uproar will all die down and disappear.”
He criticized the “University community’s apathy” regarding the attacks. “Does someone have to be killed before we consider acting? One attack is one too many.”
Toole also expressed hope that “students at the University can get beyond race. We must learn to have compassion not only for our race but also for our fellow man.” He finished his appeal by acknowledging that the BSA is not infallible, using the organization’s missteps and subsequent reevaluation as a universal model. “The past is a hard thing to forget; it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he wrote. “But people must not dwell on the past; we must live in the present. And we must learn from the past.”
Toole’s post-grad life has followed a drastically different trajectory than that of Roy. After taking some classes at the University’s law school, he decided to drop out and work in the city instead. Toole worked briefly as a paralegal but soon moved to the two fields which would dominate his adult life — the school and the church.
Today, he’s devoted nearly two decades to the public school systems of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and the same amount of time to Waynesboro Church of Christ. Toole currently works full-time as a Learning Technology Integrator and part time as the church’s youth minister.
According to Toole, both jobs center around a goal he first realized during his time as an undergrad, through BSA — to “have a positive impact by serving.”
“The Black Student Alliance raised awareness and … made the present and the future better,” Toole said. This mission statement led him to get involved with the BSA, and it also led him to write the Viewpoint concerning the neo-Nazi activity.
Much of the piece speaks of cyclical human behavior — getting upset about an instance of discrimination or racially-motivated violence, only to forget about it until the next incidence occurs. As someone who’s spent his entire adult life in the Charlottesville area, Toole is no stranger to this sort of behavior. He’s not judgmental of it, though.
“I think all of us fall into patterns of normalcy just so we can function and survive,” Toole said. “I don’t think anyone could sustain a fever pitch reaction.”
More important, he explained, is how people react whenever the newest act of discrimination is committed. “When you have those cycles that happen, where are you on the continuum? Are you one of the people who move the needle, or do you let other people move the needle?”
His choice of language brings to mind the words of Dave Matthews at his historic Concert for Charlottesville, when he said, “I feel like tonight maybe moved the needle a little bit in a good direction.” Matthews’ activism, however — that is, activism which presents itself in the form of a star-studded musical event with fanfare to spare — is not the sort of community service which interests Toole.
For a better understanding of Toole’s motivations, just consider what he wants written on his tombstone, according to his website — “Here lies the stone sunk that caused all those ripples.” Toole doesn’t want to be in the limelight, he explained, “but I do want to make sure I’ve had an impact wherever I’ve been.”
Despite loving the “community aspect” of Charlottesville and its “slower pace of life,” Toole acknowledged that the city has a lot of areas that can, and need to benefit from positive impacts. When he witnessed the events of Aug. 11 and 12, he said, he had no idea that the tragedy would be on such a large scale.
“As a graduate of U.Va., I was outraged, I was shocked, I was embarrassed, I was in some ways ashamed,” Toole said.
He was quick to criticize, however, the correspondingly large-scale media coverage of the rallies, arguing that such a focus on the negative “made it seem like we were back a couple decades to a lot of people.” As befits his character and his professions, Toole thought there should have been more emphasis on the “overwhelming response” from the community that he first described seeing at Heather Heyer’s funeral.
“Yes, you have this horrible event that happened,” Toole said. “But you also have this amazing outpouring of love and … people saying, ‘This is not welcome in our community. This is unacceptable.’”
The reduction of Charlottesville to “a hashtag” frustrates Toole. It’s a trend he’s noticed of both media organizations and the country at large failing to see the “larger systems at work.”
Toole cited several instances from his life which he said pointed towards larger issues. When he was a law school student, the O.J. Simpson trial was taking place. Toole said he was struck by the irony of his white classmates suddenly bemoaning the “failure” of the criminal justice system when Simpson was acquitted, while Toole had continually criticized the same system for charging racial minorities for crimes they had not committed. “It was like a total flip-flop.”
Similarly, Toole discussed the larger problems associated with the racial “achievement gap” which he has experienced firsthand through his public school employment. “I shouldn’t be able to predict that an African-American male is probably gonna flunk geometry…” he said. “Those numbers shouldn’t be predictive but they still are.”
Toole neatly summed up his anxieties about larger systems by returning to the idea of patterns in a community. “When we realize a paradigm is not working the way it’s supposed to or seems to be fostering a negative pattern, how do we change that to be a positive pattern?”
In a Daily Progress article published March 23, 1993 and titled “Charge against neo-Nazi dropped,” Tolley’s court case and its dismissal are briefly described. The judge — possibly Roy’s “magistrate,” though this is not verified — dropped the case since it “wasn’t clear from testimony who started a fight.” Tolley said he planned to leave town soon afterwards. Judging by the lack of subsequent articles published about him, he seems to have made good on this promise.
So what became of the local neo-Nazis and their planned “white revolt?” According to The Daily Progress, nothing — mentions of the radical hate group allegedly forming in Charlottesville virtually disappear after the March 13 article identifying them. Maybe their newfound publicity spooked the supremacists enough to make them retreat back to the shadows of society. Detective Frazier, the policeman who was quoted as tracking the group’s activity, died in 2002, so asking him was not possible.
Frazier did say in the March 13 article that “the Charlottesville skinhead group isn’t that active until friends from out of town visit,” mimicking the “out of town” rhetoric that some attempted to use in the wake of Aug. 11 and 12 to absolve Charlottesville of racial guilt. Another strange parallel between the neo-Nazi incidents — purely coincidental, it seems, but still unusual — is that Spike Lee made his first visit to the University about a month after the events on the Corner. The next time he would return to speak publicly in Charlottesville would be in Nov. 2017, when he said, “If we don’t acknowledge the history of this country, we can’t move forward” — in itself, a mirror of Toole’s 1993 suggestion to “live in the present” and “learn from the past.”
In her article, Roy urged “students to know Charlottesville isn’t the safe, quaint college town it is often made out to be.” Decades later, Toole watched with dismay as his city “became a hashtag.” Essentially, both are arguing against the same thing — reduction of a place to one or two of its qualities, whether positive or negative, fails to adequately depict the place.
There are always larger forces at play, Toole said, and he’s focused his adult life on addressing them. He has his community — a flawed, complicated community, but a community nonetheless — to help him in his efforts. “Sometimes you want to dig up a root and you keep digging, but the root is just so big … bigger than you thought,” Toole said. “My hope would be that when people are digging at these systems and trying to dig them up, they take breaks and pass the shovel to other people who can help.”