Cry Havoc

Charlottesville and American Democracy Under Siege


By Michael Signer

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The former mayor of Charlottesville delivers a vivid, first-person chronicle of the terror and mayhem of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” event, and shows how issues of extremism are affecting not just one city but the nation itself.

The deadly invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia, by white nationalist militias in August 2017 is a microcosm of the challenges facing American democracy today. In his first-person account of one of recent American history’s most polarizing events, Michael Signer, then Charlottesville’s mayor, both tells the story of what really happened and draws out its larger significance.

Signer’s gripping, strikingly candid “you are there” narrative sets the events on the ground-the lead-up to August’s “Unite the Right” rally, the days of the weekend itself, the aftermath-in the larger context of a country struggling to find its way in a disruptive new era. He confronts some of the most challenging questions of our moment, namely how can we:
  • Reconcile free speech with the need for public order?
  • Maintain the values of pragmatism, compromise, even simple civility, in a time of intensification of extremes on the right and the left?
  • Address systemic racism through our public spaces and memorials?
  • Provide accountability after a crisis?

While Signer shows how easily our communities can be taken hostage by forces intent on destroying democratic norms and institutions, he concludes with a stirring call for optimism, revealing how the tragic events of Charlottesville are also bolstering American democracy from within.


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Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war.

—Mark Antony
Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1


Wes Bellamy: Vice-Mayor, 2016–2018

Bob Fenwick: City Councilor

Kathy Galvin: City Councilor

Maurice Jones: City Manager

Jason Kessler: Founder, “Unite the Right”

Terry McAuliffe: Governor of Virginia

Mike Signer: Mayor, 2016–2018

Kristin Szakos: City Councilor

Al Thomas: Chief of Police

Nikuyah Walker*: Activist and Mayor, 2018–2020




WHAT HAPPENED ON THE WEEKEND OF AUGUST 11–12, 2017, IN Charlottesville, Virginia, was so horrific, was such a tear in the fabric of a small city’s ordinary experience, that it strains one’s power to describe. Hordes of white nationalists invaded the University of Virginia and then the Downtown Mall of the city, ostensibly to support the preservation of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. They clashed violently with counterprotesters along the way before a neo-Nazi terrorist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one young woman and injuring nineteen others.

The events were cinematic, to be sure, quickly branded into the nation’s consciousness by a Vice News documentary that went viral. The video showed muscular, violent men chanting “Jews will not replace us” as they carried torches on the fabled “Grounds” of the university. It showed a melee near the quaint Downtown Mall, where right-wing activists, bearing handmade shields and helmets, cracked flagpoles onto left-wing counterprotesters and sent fists flying into faces. One counterprotester used a spray can as a torch; a white protester fired a handgun toward a black counterprotester (luckily, not hitting him). Others hurled newspaper boxes. Waves of neo-Nazis, wearing swastika apparel, rolled on foot into anti-racist activists wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. People fell onto concrete and blacktop, thrashing against each other. As the violence spread like wildfire, police from both the state and the city stood by impassively.

These scenes are available to anyone who types “Charlottesville” into Google.

But what stays in my memory were not these broad canvases of violence and suffering. It is instead individual vignettes, which I can slow down and replay in my mind, of men and women brought to anxiety and violence by extremism.

After taking an early-morning swim at the gym on Monticello Avenue, my friend Richard, an African American man in his late fifties who grew up in segregated Charlottesville, watching a militia of neo-Nazis unload from a rented tour bus. As they adjusted their shields and helmets, holding assault rifles, Richard said, they were smiling and cheerful, “like they were going to a party.” Fearing for his safety, he retreated quickly back into the building from which he had come.

As neo-Nazis marched with tiki torches through Thomas Jefferson’s famed “Lawn” at the University of Virginia, around Jefferson’s Rotunda, and up to a statue of Jefferson, a group of UVA students linking arms and surrounding the statue, despite the melee unleashed on them, with pepper spray, punches, and blood.

At the rally, a man hurling a punch at a young female counterprotester as he walked by, knocking her back several feet. The untrammeled testosterone, the shocking violence, the mayhem in that blatant, unashamed act of battery.

After the rally disbanded, the two opposing groups walking next to each other along Market Street toward the municipal garage where they had all inexplicably parked, shouting and jostling and punching each other in the hot August sun, with cops walking alongside, doing nothing.

A group of white men throwing a young black man to the ground in the parking garage, beating and kicking him with their boots, with a police station just feet away.

At UVA’s Zehmer Hall, where I’d been sent to the joint emergency operations center, receiving the text of a post: “It’s time to torch these jewish monsters lets go 3 pm [sic].” Watching my wife sitting next to me, crying and shaking, as I contacted the secretary of public safety and called the rabbi of Charlottesville’s only temple, and learned that the building had already been empty for hours (the Holocaust-era scrolls had been removed as well).

A little while later, hearing a scream from the control room. Rushing in to hear these words: “There’s been a car crash.” People in front of their screens with their hands clapped to their cheeks, watching the video of a car crashing into a crowd of people. And watching it myself, thinking it could not have been intentional, then scrutinizing it over and over, realizing, with horror, that it must have been.

On Fourth Street, normally a humble, approachable area, lined with an old-fashioned vinyl record store, a spa, a bank, and other businesses in red and white brick buildings, a young woman named Heather Heyer walking with friends after protesting neo-Nazis, her long braid swinging. The muscle car accelerating, then plowing into the crowd. One man literally thrown into the air. Heyer, spun through the air before hitting the pavement. She was declared dead at the hospital, where nineteen others were admitted with horrible injuries.

A bearded African American man at the intersection afterward, screaming, “There are people, bodies lying on the ground right now. We told City Council we did not want them here. They let them come. We told the police we did not want them here. They let them come. I had to jump out the way. I almost got hit by the car my motherfucking self.”

The sound of a woman screaming: “Oh my god! We got hit by a car!”

At the city council meeting a week later, one I chaired as mayor of Charlottesville, the rage and grief on the face of a young African American man I knew as he shouted at us from the podium, “We told y’all numerous times this shit was going to happen. And y’all did nothing.”

Me responding plaintively from the dais, saying, “We tried really hard to get the rally out and a federal judge forced us to have the rally downtown. I’m just gonna say. We did try.”

An audience member shouting back, “Why did you have the rally in the first place?” Responding, “Because we were legally required to.” My acquaintance shouting back from the podium, “This is what we want: we want Mike Signer, [Councilor] Kathy Galvin, [Chief of Police] Al Thomas gone. We want leaders in this community who will actually protect us.”

During that same meeting, dozens of people standing and chanting, “Signer must go.” I had to watch the video to remember the events. I’d blocked them out. They were that painful. They were that extreme.

What lingers with me the most, as I sift through these scenes and hundreds of others, is a feeling, as I walked the Downtown Mall, of cold. It was August in central Virginia, a warm day. But I felt a chill in the humid air. I felt it everywhere as the satellite trucks moved in, as the first white nationalists roamed the city, with their tattoos and their aggression, and as the anti-fascists edgily wove through the streets.

I felt it when I stopped to look at three young men crumpled on the sidewalk along Fourth Street, three hours after Heather Heyer was killed. They wore ragged camouflage and rebel flag garb. The guy in the middle had a gash on his forehead, and blood was trickling down his cheek. They looked stunned—as if even they didn’t understand what they had unleashed. I almost shivered. A friend told me later he could “feel the evil in the air” on the Downtown Mall that day. I nodded my head. I’d felt it too. It had felt like winter in summer.

THAT WAS AN ALREADY-FAMOUS CITY CONVULSING AS THE WORLD watched, changing before their very eyes. Up until that point, Charlottesville had been a famous small college town known for Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello (which appears on the “tails” side of the nickel), for the University of Virginia (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and for aesthetics that were college-town cool before college towns were cool. It was at once one of the nation’s premier wedding destinations, and an AAA-bond-rated municipality that boasted Virginia’s lowest unemployment.

The city, about ten square miles in area, has a population of just under fifty thousand. Despite its small size, it once named itself a “World-Class City” during a branding campaign, and the sweetly vainglorious title stuck. In 2016, the year I became mayor, the city received several honors, including being named the #1 place to visit in the United States by Expedia, the #4 city in the country for entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur, #3 of the nation’s fifteen Best Places to Live by the New York Post, the #1 small city for foodies by Travelocity, and one of the healthiest small towns in the country by HealthLine.

Charlottesville was renowned for its local food movement, its wineries and horse farms in surrounding Albemarle County, and a culture that was friendly and laid-back and yet intellectual, curious, and creative. For a small city, we hosted a remarkable number of festivals: the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Virginia Film Festival, the Miss Virginia pageant, and the Tom-Tom Founders Festival (a smaller version of Austin’s SXSW).

Not all was bright. For starters, there was a tragic undercurrent of poverty. Local civic leaders had worked with the Chamber of Commerce on the “Orange Dot” Project to analyze the stubborn problem of the city’s underclass, finding in 2015 that 1,800 families in Charlottesville—representing about 25 percent of the population—were not self-sufficient.1

The issue was intertwined with a history of racist practices. Just within the past four generations, Charlottesville’s poor and black residents had experienced the brunt of Jim Crow laws; segregated schools; a “Massive Resistance” campaign to shut down public schools, rather than comply with the Supreme Court’s requirement, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), that they be desegregated; and a 1960s urban renewal project that razed Vinegar Hill, the city’s black commercial district, and relocated the residents to a public housing project with cinderblock walls. The original site was left empty for years afterward, pouring salt into an unhealed wound.

The city council had created a community-wide “Dialogue on Race” in 2009 intended to generate restorative new public policies, and it had formally apologized for Vinegar Hill in 2011. And yet there was still a raw, fractious quality to local politics, particularly when they touched on race and class. Charlottesville was a progressive one-party town that had voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, but there were often factions within the Democratic Party, with one breakaway bloc forming to demand more aggressive policies, often employing disruptive tactics and ad hominem attacks in the process.

Through all of this, Charlottesville was experiencing the same prosperity as other cities around the country during the “back-to-the-city” movement of the 2000s. Millennials and senior citizens alike were flocking to Charlottesville to live within walking distance of cafes and bookstores. The population was steadily rising along with spending power and tax revenues. But with a limited supply of housing and parking, Charlottesville began to get more expensive. It began to gentrify, with lower-income folks being pushed out of the most popular areas.

But still and all, the city had earned a reputation as quirky, intimate, engaging, and beloved by most of its residents. For many years, for instance, there were two alternative weeklies. One was called the C-ville Weekly; the other was called The Hook, in a playful reference to a local saying: Charlottesville was so charming, so intoxicating, even, that once you came, you were “hooked,” and you’d come back.

This balance between the bucolic and the stimulating, which would be the envy of many cities around the world, would be fundamentally shaken in one brutal weekend. After the Unite the Right rally, and especially after President Donald Trump’s extraordinary statement that there were “good people on both sides” of the mayhem, Charlottesville would become synonymous with white supremacy and with terrorism. The city’s “brand” now commingled the pleasing contours of UVA and Monticello with swastikas, shields, swords, helmets, and that haunting chant: “Jews will not replace us.”

WE USE METAPHORS DRAWN FROM THE NATURAL WORLD TO CAPTURE things that both delight and disturb us. Falling in love is like being in a heat wave. A political controversy is a tornado. A business crisis is a hurricane.

What happened in Charlottesville is no exception. But it’s difficult to determine exactly which metaphor best captures the events this book describes. On the one hand, Charlottesville was like an earthquake. Earthquakes happen along fault lines, which take place when ancient plates underneath the earth’s surface collide to release tremendous, violent energy. In this metaphor, the task we had in the city’s leadership was to remain standing while the earth shook. The task ahead would be to anticipate tremors and stabilize society.

But Charlottesville also felt like a hurricane, a perfect storm—a weather system created by pent-up climatic forces gathering before descending in torrents of destructive wind and rain. Such a metaphor would imply that we needed to sail the ship of state through the squalls. And the work ahead would not be to control hurricanes (you can’t), but instead to prepare the city to survive them, perhaps through levees, weatherproofing, and better climatology.

But hurricanes aren’t, in and of themselves, manmade (though climate change has made them worse), as the crisis in Charlottesville was. So perhaps a better metaphor would be fires, which often are caused by people. As I sought to understand these events through language, something our fire chief said to me in a security briefing before the rally came back to me. He said that the only model they could come up with for what they might have to deal with following the rally, as hundreds of violent people would likely disperse through the town, was that of the scattered brushfires that emerge even after a forest fire is put out.

So I decided it’s fire, not wind and rain, that seems to be the best way to understand what happened in Charlottesville. I have used the word “firestorm” as much as anyone else, but I still had to look it up to learn exactly what it means. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s a “very intense and destructive fire usually accompanied by high winds,” particularly “one that is started by attack with nuclear or incendiary weapons and that creates a powerful updraft which causes very strong inrushing winds to develop in the surrounding area.” Significantly, the word was first used in 1945—the same year that World War II ended with firestorms in Dresden and Hamburg, created by hundreds of massive, incendiary, oxygen-sucking bombs.2

This book is about a metaphorical firestorm. After one, the earth is scorched and barren. What happens next? The metaphor is generous. On the one hand, new growth can occur even after horrific fires, as we see in “slash-and-burn” agriculture—a method where forests are burned so the ashes can fertilize the ground for crops. In other words, even a firestorm can generate growth.

But there are other ways that fire can create. Consider a crucible, a container in which chemicals are melted together to create a new substance. Merriam-Webster refers to a place or situation where “concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development.”3 That’s also how we might see Charlottesville: a fire that produced ingots of wisdom.

I will suggest in this book that there were actually five underlying brushfires that converged to create this firestorm. In each area, the conflict between ideas, ideals, and constraints created friction, heat, and combustion. First, the conflict between the freedom of speech and public safety in our First Amendment law. Second, our collective failure to come up with constructive ways to address a history of racism through our memorials and public spaces. Third, the clash between order and the passions of today’s politics, and the fight to define “civility” itself. Fourth, the challenge of providing accountability in a crisis, to a public clamoring for real answers. Finally, how the newfound drive for equity can upend generations of policy and governance.

In each area, we were bedeviled not just by the difficulty of finding an answer, but by people demanding that one should be easy to find, and that we were flawed, even evil, if we couldn’t. Supposedly simple answers dangled like sweets. On the First Amendment and repeated visits by white nationalists: “Deny the permit” and “Stop them from coming here.” On the Lee statue: “Tear it down.” On accountability: “Just tell the truth.” On the civility debate: “Just let people be heard.” On equity: “Just do the right thing.”

So charged with energy, these demands could also be distracting and even dangerous, sparking blazes that could spread contagiously. In an age addicted to slogans that fit social media, and a press that struggles to cover complexity and substance, there was little appetite for leaders doing what leaders needed to do: grapple in the crucial gray area that lies between the seductive poles of black and white. This gray, mind you, was not mild or equivocal. It was the gray of smoke and of ashes.

THIS IS ULTIMATELY A STORY ABOUT GOVERNANCE UNDER FIRE IN a disruptive new era. This story is admittedly, and necessarily, mine—told in my voice, seen from my eyes, from the seat I had as the city’s mayor during these events. In other words, while I have tried to tell the story as factually as I can, this is also a subjective account, and certain characters and events are certainly given shorter shrift than they would be given in other accounts. But because this account is told from my perspective, it also allows me to spend more time on certain aspects of the story that I saw as especially important, given my background in political theory, law, and American history.

I have tried to be as honest as I can, to describe not only mistakes and second-guessing, but my experiences in a very hot seat. In my role as the mayor in a city with a “weak mayor” form of government (there will be much more about this later), I fought hard to reconcile the irreconcilable as best as I could. When I became mayor, many of my friends and colleagues advised me that it would be safer to “take the title,” focus on my ceremonial duties, and treat the office as the part-time job it’s designed to be. But I wanted to use my term instead to reanimate the office, kick-start stalled projects, bring respect back to the council chambers, and lead where others had followed. In the process, I pushed boundaries, ruffled feathers, and, no question about it, made enemies.

These were the costs of the approach I took. We like to think of leadership in Hollywood terms: the successful IPO, scoring a touchdown, passing a bill, winning great cheers. But more often than not, it’s a gritty slog up a field, battered from all sides, with a concussion or two along the way. The more I’ve gotten to know other mayors, businesspeople, and nonprofit leaders, the more I’ve heard those hidden stories of “wrestling in the gray.” That’s what real leadership is, and we need to understand it better. Where you find mistakes in this story, I would urge you to put yourself in the shoes of the person who made them—to think hard about what you would have done instead.

These were difficult experiences. But they were also rewarding. There is nothing like fighting for something you believe in where there’s no easy answer, because, in the end, if you want to lead, that’s just what you’ll have to deal with. You might as well throw yourself headlong into the challenges. You need, in other words, to plunge into the real world.

Thinking about “the world” in this way is a crucial idea from the work of Hannah Arendt, the German Jewish philosopher who immigrated to America before writing the magisterial book The Origins of Totalitarianism, and who chronicled, as a journalist, the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, authoring The Banality of Evil, about the conviction of Hitler’s henchman Adolf Eichmann.

I first heard Arendt’s name from my grandmother, Esther Signer, who worked for a time as a secretary at the New School in New York, where Arendt taught. I remember her telling me about the “great woman” in her office. After the Holocaust and World War II, Arendt was troubled by the widespread temptation to turn away from government and politics entirely. Even in 1968, over twenty years after the end of World War II, she observed that “more and more people in the countries of the Western world, which since the decline of the ancient world has regarded freedom from politics as one of the basic freedoms, make use of this freedom and have retreated from the world and their obligations within it.”4 She argued for the opposite: for turning back to the world, with all of its contradictions, meanness, faults, and even evil—for embracing the whole of it and plunging into it. That was the duty of the human being as a social, and therefore a political, animal. She called this amor mundi—love of the world. She approvingly wrote about “always taking sides for the world’s sake, understanding and judging everything in terms of its position in the world at any given time.”5 She was urging us to get involved, to get our hands dirty with realpolitik, not despite of, but because of, the cost.

That idea suggests one light in which we can view the 2017 events of Charlottesville: as a case study for a surprising truth about how growth in a healthy democracy occurs—that it’s agonistic. Agon is an idea from ancient Greece positing that conflict is essential to political life. The Greek playwright Euripides built productive conflict into his plots like an engine. His tragedies often featured harsh conflicts between protagonists and antagonists, but they drove the drama, and the lessons, forward.6 In the words of one scholar, agonists believe so fervently in the centrality of struggle to democracy that they call for a revitalization of modern democratic culture “not in terms of the articulation of public goods which exceed partisan interests, but through a celebration of the continuous conflict of those interests.”7

The struggle we see in the real world—the world as it is, not as we want it to be—can be uncomfortable and even ugly. But the cost of the struggle, on human beings, institutions, and society as a whole, is not only incidental to progress, but necessary to it. You can see this idea in much of America’s history. Whether in Jim Crow laws or McCarthyism or the horrific bigotry and violence that took over the streets of Charlottesville, American democracy has responded to agony by pushing to perfect its first principles—for equality to really mean equality, for freedom to really mean freedom. In other words, progress not only won’t happen without pain, but depends on pain. A crucible, in other words, needs a fire.

Even James Madison centered his greatest contributions on this very idea. We have a deceptive picture of Madison in our heads today. The Father of the Constitution, who was five feet four inches tall and weighed only a hundred pounds, is caricatured as intellectual and somewhat effete. We praise the elegance of the checks and balances in the constitutional system he designed much as we might celebrate the artistry of an architect’s blueprints. But the inevitability of conflict, even violence, was woven into his theory of how society’s factions needed to be balanced against each other, lest one of them consume the country.

In a democracy, Madison went to great pains to teach us, people are free to disagree, and power is up for the taking. Even in a time of peace, this can be ugly. The system endures, however, because it embraces rather than rejects this conflict. I will argue in this book that the agonizing events of Charlottesville will still help the nation move forward from them, that we will become more democratic, more free, and more pluralistic as a result.

But this progress won’t be without agony. It will be because of it.



CHARLOTTESVILLE’S CITY HALL IS AN UNREMARKABLE 1970s-style building whose only notable feature is a frieze at its rounded corner featuring three US presidents—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—in bronze. Just out front, in the center of the Downtown Mall, stands the Freedom of Speech Wall, a slate wall that runs for over fifty feet, where members of the public are encouraged to express their views on any subject in multicolored chalk that is conveniently provided. The chalk is wiped off three times per week—unless the rain does the job first—and it always fills up again quickly, usually within a few hours. Carved into one segment of the wall is the text of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. On the opposite side is a quote by the late US Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall:

Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. To permit the continued building of our politics and culture, and to assure self-fulfillment for each individual, our people are guaranteed the right to express any thought, free from government censorship.1

The monument also includes a podium that serves as a contemporary soapbox. Inscribed on it is a quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”2


  • "[D]eeply introspective... [Signer] offers a thorough analysis of the 'shortcomings' of First Amendment law and the failures of policing. He emerges as a well-intentioned, proactive figurehead... A complex, disturbing, valuable tale of racial disharmony, government failure, and one man's frantic attempts to save the day."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "[O]ffers a first-person chronicle of events that dramatically pits the First Amendment (free speech) against public order. How are they reconciled? That to a great extent is Signer's story. His narrative adds a much needed depth and perception... stress[ing] where American democracy stands in light of Charlottesville and continuing racial events of today."—The Daily Press
  • "A valuable case study for civic government and ethics collections."—Library Journal
  • "Highly Recommended."—Buzzfeed News
  • “A vital volume to understand the background of the traumatic events that changed the course of Charlottesville and the nation’s history.”—The Virginia Gazette
  • "A reflective insider account ... Michael Signer, then mayor of Charlottesville, worked mightily, as his book Cry Havoc makes clear, to try to avert the white supremacist standoff that took the life of Heather Heyer and tarnished the name of his town. ... Signer grapples with the limits of the First Amendment and ... raises thoughtful questions with no easy answers. Should provocateurs be given demonstration permits when their objective is to provoke? Signer offers a long rumination on his efforts to stay true to a freedom he holds dear while not giving energy to people who repulse him. ...The mayhem on the streets of Charlottesville bruised the idealism of Signer, who had grand ambitions of remaking the normally tranquil college town into a capital of the resistance against the politics of President Trump."—New York Times
  • "Mike Signer had a unique vantage point on one of the inflection points of our time: the white-supremacist rallies and violence in Charlottesville in 2017. In this important new book, he explores where we've been, where we are, and--most important--where we should be headed if we can summon our better angels."— Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America
  • "Fascinating."— Michel Martin, NPR's "All Things Considered"
  • "Michael Signer's Cry Havoc goes behind the scenes as neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, transforming a small college town into an international flashpoint of extremist hatred and racial confrontation. The former mayor recounts, from his firsthand vantage point, the events of that tragic and dramatic weekend. This well-written, disturbing volume serves as a warning about what may be coming in America's increasingly divided society. We would be wise to heed the lessons of Charlottesville before one small city's dreadful conflict becomes the blueprint for violence from coast to coast."—Larry Sabato, director, UVA Center for Politics
  • "A report from the frontlines of Trump's America. Polarization, race, politicized memory, violence, and good-willed efforts of citizens and politicians to navigate it all. Mike Signer gives us his on-the-ground view of 'Charlottesville under siege' revealing the deep vulnerabilities and promise of American democracy."
    Daniel Ziblatt, Harvard University, coauthor of How Democracies Die
  • "Cry Havoc vividly recounts the disturbing events in Charlottesville and reminds us that the battle to preserve our democratic institutions is an enduring part of our national experience. Essential reading in a time of national peril."—Robert Dallek, author, of An Unfinished Life: JFK, 1917-1963
  • "Former Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, in providing an account of the tribulations in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Unite the Right rally, demonstrates the pain and struggle of a community defending itself from hate and constructing a collective path together toward a vision of belonging. He also offers an intimate glimpse into what it takes to carry the immense weight of responsibility and accountability to the public amid such turbulence. In doing so, Signer gives his readers firsthand insight into the necessary conflict that is at the heart of true bridging. But that through compassion, faith, and commitment to one another, extremism can be overcome toward a broad expansion of the circle of human concern."—John A. Powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society, University of California, Berkeley
  • "Charlottesville, Virginia, my hometown, is now an emblem and a microcosm of the tensions and divisions roiling our nation. Mayor Michael Signer found himself in the center of a growing brushfire that culminated in the murderous Unite the Right demonstration in August 2017. Here he tells a difficult, unsparing, but often engrossing story that illuminates just how hard it can be to face our past while also finding a healing and hopeful path forward."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
  • "Since the Unite the Right rally, I have tried to understand the events around the murder of my daughter. Cry Havoc is an important narrative of Charlottesville, providing unique insights to help make sense of the senseless, and moving us to a place of hope and courage."—Susan Bro, cofounder and president, Heather Heyer Foundation
  • "Incredibly compelling. Cry Havoc connects a richly detailed personal story of local politics with national trends that should scare us all."—P. W. Singer, author of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media
  • "Cry Havoc chronicles how Charlottesville, VA, was torn apart by violence and murder in the summer of 2017 and how the small town has come together to heal since then. By telling the deep story of the rally that shocked the world, Mike Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville and an influential political theorist, not only takes us deep inside the life of one small American town; he points to lessons that could inspire the whole country to move towards a better future."—Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy
  • "Mike Signer held the front and center seat during Charlottesville's darkest moments when our nation's democracy, values, and rule of law faced the worst of challenges. His brilliant, inspiring, accurate, and timely account is a must-read for every American concerned about the future of democracy, the civility of our discourse, and the harm of extremism."—Khizr Khan
  • "Mike Signer does something remarkable in Cry Havoc. He takes responsibility. With candor and integrity, he describes his actions, his omissions, his ambitions, and his limits as a mayor in the midst of a consuming public crisis. This book will make every reader ask, 'What would I do? What choices would I make?' And it will make every reader a more wise and skillful citizen."—Eric Liu, CEO, Citizen University and author of You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen

On Sale
Mar 10, 2020
Page Count
400 pages

Michael Signer

About the Author

The Hon. Michael Signer, mayor of Charlottesville from 2016-2018, is the author of Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies and Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father.

A public scholar, practicing attorney, and executive, Dr. Signer has written for the New York TimesWashington Post, and Time, and has been interviewed by Meet the PressFace the Nation, and NPR. He has been profiled by the New York TimesWashington Post, and CNN, and has received awards from such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Learn more about this author