During the August weekend that scarred Charlottesville, one man was in the thick of the major events, and became both a casualty and a meme of resistance to hate.
That man was Tyler Magill: a UVA alum, longtime WTJU DJ once known as the Velvet Facilitator and a local fixture in the community.
Before hundreds of white supremacists wielding tiki torches marched across UVA Grounds August 11, Magill, a UVA library system employee with access to Alderman, went there to observe the events—and became way more involved than he planned.
When the alt-righters, in town a day early for the Unite the Right rally, began encircling about 30 counterprotesters at the university’s Thomas Jefferson statue on that Friday evening, Magill says he joined the minority, mostly made up of young people, though he didn’t know any of them.
“Shell-shocked, not thinking, I ran down to join them, only hoping to be a witness, and hoping that even if [the white supremacists] were prepared to hurt, to kill 30 people, perhaps they wouldn’t kill 31,” he wrote in a widely read letter to university President Teresa Sullivan, who has been criticized for her handling of the neo-Nazi rally.
As the counterprotesters were surrounded by white-polo-shirted men with fash haircuts, Magill says they were doused with a liquid, and at some point, he was whacked in the neck with a tiki torch.
Four days later, he became thick-tongued, his reflexes slowed and he lost about half of the vision in his right eye—signs he was having a stroke, believed to be the result of blunt force trauma to his carotid artery. Though he still has a small blind spot and little energy from the August 15 health crisis, he says he’s grateful to be recovering as quickly as he has.
“I have no right to be alive, certainly not to be ambulatory in full possession of all of my faculties,” says Magill on a recent afternoon in which he had just returned from getting a CAT scan and was resting in bed. “But I’m coming out of this relatively unscathed,” he adds.
Doctors haven’t recommended when he should return to work, he says, but the university allows him six months of short-term disability leave, and he’s used six weeks so far. He says his job at the library is fairly physical, and he can only do about an hour of light activity right now before he requires rest.
A GoFundMe page has raised about $130,000 for his expenses, but Magill says he has good insurance through UVA and knows of other victims from that deadly weekend who need more help than he does.
That’s why, in his letter to Sullivan, he called for the university to pay off those victims’ bills in full.
“These people’s lives are in shambles because the University failed to take action on Friday night,” he wrote in his letter. “The University emboldened the fascists with [its] lack of action, and set the stage for the 12th. The University must acknowledge its complicity and make amends.”
Sullivan asked Magill to sit in the president’s box at Scott Stadium for the September 24 Concert for Charlottesville, championed by the Dave Matthews Band. That’s where he passed her the letter, which he says is set to be published soon in the Washington Post.
“You will be leaving and that is for the best,” he wrote. He says he hasn’t received a response—and isn’t expecting to.
While lying in bed, Magill says, “As much as I can, I sympathize with the problems that a modern university president has—so much of their job isn’t the classic university president job, so much of it is just raising money,” he says. Despite her own personal beliefs, she has to cater her statements to “a fairly conservative, if not reactionary, donor base,” he adds.
UVA president-elect James Ryan will take her place next year. “I would just hope that Mr. Ryan would weigh things a little bit more carefully,” Magill says.
An iconic photo from the weekend of the Unite the Right rally shows Magill rushing event organizer Jason Kessler with his hands in the air at Kessler’s August 13 attempted press conference.
Laughing, Magill says the photo shows him “being really big,” but in reality, he knew there was a sniper atop a building overlooking Kessler’s conference, and he wanted to approach the white nationalist while showing he wasn’t armed.
The library worker calls himself a “tourist” in the mess of alt-right protesters and counterprotesters, and says he doesn’t belong to any activist group.
He’s not a “shining example,” of how to confront white supremacy, but he tries to be, he says.
“We all need to try every day and not expect to get any reward for it,” he says. “The reward is in the doing.”
And for plenty of people, the terror of that weekend isn’t over. Magill says he’s been in “therapy up to [his] eyeballs.”
“Now I’m another middle-aged white person wearing sweat pants just walking down the street not doing much,” he says. “There’s plenty of people out there who still feel like it’s August 12 all the time.”