Time passes and people may try to distance themselves from their worst association, but death and the internet are forever, as one participant in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally is learning. Peter Cytanovic became one of the faces of that rally, memorialized in a photograph that has been shared across social media, graced any number of articles about white supremacy, and made his name well-known.
Cytanovic, HuffPost reports, signed on to join the Nevada National Guard in late 2019, but it wasn’t to last. By July of 2020, his orders to attend basic training were canceled, and in December, he received formal notice of his ejection.
The Department of Defense reportedly discovered Cytanovic’s connections to white supremacy and the Charlottesville rally when a background check revealed an FBI investigation into his participation. It was at this rally that a counter-protestor, Heather Heyer, was murdered by another participant. James Alex Fields Jr. was convicted of murder after driving his vehicle into a crowd of protestors, striking and killing Heyer.
The January 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, where it was discovered that dozens of military members participated, spurred a call for the military to crack down on white supremacy in the ranks, as NPR reports. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said, “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies, but we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
In an exclusive interview with London School of Economics Student Union’s newspaper, The Beaver in 2019, Cytanovic claimed to have updated his beliefs, saying that he now recognizes that white privilege exists and calls himself a feminist, but still, in the same interview, defended alt-right claims, such as that Robert E. Lee never owned slaves, and that removing Confederate monuments is “destroy[ing]” history and “love of culture.” He also continued to defend his participation in the movement:
“As far as the white nationalist thing goes, I didn’t understand what I thought it was. Overall, my reasons for going to the rally I will not apologise for. I’m not a Nazi; I never have been. There’s no excuse, but it was a group mentality that really took control. But there’s no excuse. I shouldn’t have gone there. There was an authentic reason why I went that doesn’t involve me being a Nazi.”
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com