A huge and eerie crowd of neo-Nazis wearing white and holding torches staged a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the treasonous general who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against the United States during the Civil War.
The Charlottesville City Council voted in April to sell off the statue — a painful reminder of slavery — but many white supremacists proclaim it is a part of “Virginia’s heritage” and removing it would be sacrilege.
The scene at Lee Park, as described by many, seemed to recall the height of the Ku Klux Klan, who regularly used torched and flaming crosses to attack black citizens. Protesters surrounded the monument and chanted neo-Nazi slogans like “You will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and “Blood and soil” — a phrase popularized during Nazi Germany that defines ethnicity as being based on both race and land.
In front of the Robert E. Lee statue pic.twitter.com/roWDjOOJGl— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
"Russia is our friend," in Lee Park. pic.twitter.com/uNKMoKRegF— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
The two major protests were organized by Richard Spencer — the white supremacist who got punched in the fact on Inauguration Day — who claimed it was a peaceful demonstration.
Just one with torches and fire as if in preparation for a lynching.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said.
However, despite his proclamation of peace, when counter-protesters appeared at the venue, a scuffle broke out and police had to step in. Fortunately, there were minimal injuries and no one got arrested.
The demonstration was criticized for attempting to intimidate people of color and received backlash from the community.
If a group of ISIS-pledged citizens held a public rally anywhere in America, for any reason, there would be military action taken. https://t.co/7kQnK4Q8pz— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) May 14, 2017
This rally of white people with torches, led by Richard Spencer, was designed to intimidate the local Black community.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) May 14, 2017
America. 2017. https://t.co/LazD3jwhOT
They're chanting "Russia is our friend" and the Nazi Era phrase "Blood and Soil."— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) May 14, 2017
How is this happening in America? In the 21st century? https://t.co/62NkhktDpe
Black ppl get shut down for mentioning slavery as it was "so long ago." Yet they can't get over the loss of the civil war. #charlottesville— Dionne O, M.D. (@Dr_adaora) May 14, 2017
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer also released a statement saying it reminded him of the “days of the KKK.”
“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK,” Signer said in a statement.
“Either way, as mayor of this city, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation,” he said. “We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”
The mayor has received backlash for his condemnation as well. Participants say a comparison to white supremacists is not fair.
“We're not white supremacists,” protester Orry Von Dize said. “We are simply just white people that love our heritage, our culture, our European identity.”
It is unbelievable that these neo-Nazis were allowed to bring torches to “defend” the memorial (read: intimidate black people) even though the gesture stinks of the way the Ku Klux Klan behaved when they went out for lynching. There were no arrests made by the police. Yet, if people of color were seen bearing torches, would the authorities be so quiescent?
KKK rally in #Charlottesville is an exercise free speech; meanwhile, playing a saxophone at the park is technically disturbing the peace.— Maxwell Power (@maxwellpower) May 15, 2017
Talk about hypocrisy.