Events around this weekend’s aborted “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. produced some awful images, including one from a tiki torch-lit rally on Aug. 11 that evokes equal parts Hitler Youth and Ku Klux Klan. Now the young man pictured in it is trying to put his own spin on the photo.
Peter Cytanovic, a 20-year-old student at the University of Nevada in Reno had traveled all the way to Charlottesville for the chance to see white nationalist leaders like Richard Spencer. He was photographed mid-scream at the nighttime gathering, in a dramatic photo that quickly became representative of the weekend’s drama.
In the picture, distributed by Getty Images, Cytanovic appears in a crowd of men on the University of Virginia campus, each holding a garden tiki torch aloft.
Cytanovic was quickly identified, prompting the University of Nevada president Marc Johnson to make a public statement confirming his role in the event. “The university does not necessarily—well, we definitely do not—support the content of his message,” he said. “But we have no constitutional or legal right to fire him from his job or expel him from the university.”
He isn’t the only one to have been identified from news images. Following the events of the weekend, photos of demonstrators have been picked apart by journalists and internet commentators acting as amatuer sleuths. Many other white nationalists have been publicly identified. One has lost his job, another one has been disowned by his family.
Perhaps to deflect negative repercussions for himself, Cytanovic has spent the past few days trying to define exactly what brought him to the event. Despite the widespread images of his participation in a gathering with chants like “Jews will not replace us,” he has disavowed affiliation with the disparate hate groups attempting to meet up at “Unite the Right.” In an interview with local station KTVN, he distanced himself from Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, claiming that he was merely “pro-white.”
He admits, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and other white Supremist groups reflects on him—but says he doesn’t identify with them.
“We do not accept national socialism. We do not accept fascism. We do not accept Klansmen. We are truly Identitarian. That symbol is not a symbol of racism.”
And while you might associate pro-white with racism he says they’re two different things.
“I hope people acknowledge that being a party to the alternative right does not make me an evil Nazi, and that being pro-white right now is dangerous, and being pro-white doesn’t mean I’m anti-anyone else.”
As online commentators have pointed out, Cytanovic’s apparent surprise at being lumped with hate groups is disingenuous. He got in the frame by traveling to a public event for white nationalism, and however he frames his politics, this photo contains clear symbols and actions: A very young man shouting with intense emotion, wearing a polo with the logo of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group that has been active on college campuses. Even Cytanovic’s torch, although perhaps purchased at a big box housewares store, is a visual reminder of 1930s Nazi rallies, echoed in recent demonstrations by Greece’s rightwing Golden Dawn party.
Whether or not he intended to be an icon of the weekend, he certainly was aware of the icons around him.