In Charlottesville, Virginia, the city council voted to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Lee Park. This sparked outrage with some members of the community. One group of protesters reportedly showed up to protest with torches in hand over the weekend.
The group, said to number “several dozen” by local paper Daily Progress, staged a public protest on Saturday. They say that “white people” across the country recognize that “a war” of symbolism is under way, and they don’t want the monument removed because it is part of American history.
While a court injunction has postponed the statue’s removal for six months, according to reports the protesters continued with their event, chanting slogans like “we will not be replaced.” The group is reported to have been led by Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute which has been described as a “white nationalist think tank.”
“I think it’s horrific,” said Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer, regarding the protest. “We’re a city that proudly values our diversity.”
The protest coincided with the park’s Festival of Cultures event, which Mayor Singer said was created to celebrate the “cultural and linguistic diversity” of the community.
Signer called Charlottesville a “capital of resistance” following the inauguration of Donald Trump in January, and vowed to provide assistance to immigrants who needed help.
In a statement, Singer said the protest was “either profoundly ignorant, or designed to instill fear in our minority community.”
When asked how he would respond, Singer said, “It’s always a balance about how much oxygen you want to give these alt-right bigots. It’s important to say that these were just Tiki torches. Based upon what I’m seeing online, the people involved in this have a juvenile mentality and are beneath our contempt.”
Signer, who has been critical of President Donald Trump on Twitter, sparred with users he called “anonymous trolls.”
— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) May 13, 2017
Always good to sample a little good old anonymous Trump-era trolling to learn the true incoherence we’re facing. Also, no daughters here. https://t.co/4bAdI5yV1w
— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) May 13, 2017
The self-proclaimed “thick-skinned” mayor was treated to an array of insults and criticisms on the social media platform.
Stay classy, anonymous troll. https://t.co/5iMj0q52NH
— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) May 14, 2017
During the protest Saturday, an altercation broke out between the protesters and a group of counter-protesters. In the emotionally heightened atmosphere, in wasn’t whether the altercation was racially motivated, however Singer said the police will perform “due diligence” to determine if there is evidence of a federal hate crime.
Some in the community, like University of Virginia history teacher John Edwin Mason, say the protest is an attempt by new “American fascists” to be more like traditional racist groups like the KKK. They want to preserve the south’s confederate history, and Mason doesn’t think the protesters or Spencer care about Robert E. Lee. “He sees an opportunity here,” Mason said.
Mason, who is African-American, has served as vice chair on the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group that seeks to remove Confederate monuments including the Confederate battle flag that flew atop the statehouse in Charleston, South Carolina.
Mason said he’s spoke to neighbors about the protest in Lee Park. “Nobody here is intimidated by these jokers,” Mason said, indicating no one was surprised or scared by the event.
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