White nationalist Richard Spencer led a group of protesters who gathered Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. to protest the sale of a statue of Robert E. Lee that stands in a local park.
Spencer led a procession of white-shirted demonstrators through the city during the day, banging a drum and carrying Confederate flags. Spencer was also among a group of torch-wielding protesters who gathered in Lee Park that evening, according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced!” Spencer yelled as part of the daytime protest. The procession and gathering was broadcast on Periscope.
Later, a group chanted “You will not replace us!” in a darkened park. But the evening’s protest was brief. “After about 10 minutes, Charlottesville police arrived at the scene following an altercation between protesters. The crowd quickly dispersed with no further incidents, according to police,” The Daily Progress reports.
According to the paper, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the Lee statue in April, but a judge put a six-month hold on the sale earlier in May.
Spencer is a University of Virginia graduate who has helped popularize the term “alt-right.” He became well-known as an Internet meme after he was punched in the face on camera in January during President Trump’s inauguration.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer condemned the rallies in a statement on his Facebook page:
“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. Either way, as mayor of this City, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming City, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”
Arguments over removing Confederate statues have been heated, to say the least.
Southern heritage groups have fought in court to stop the removal of Confederate monuments in Southern cities.
Last week, workers in New Orleans removed a Jefferson Davis statue, the second of four statues currently planned to be removed in the city, NPR’s Bill Chappell reported. But they had to do so at night, wearing masks, after receiving death threats, Laine Kaplan-Levinson of member station WWNO added.
In a statement, the Sons of Confederate Veterans called the statue’s removal a “catastrophe,” and part of an “ISIS-like effort to erase history and culture.”
But many others find Confederate symbols racist and applaud efforts to remove monuments and flags.
“It is about a certain way of life that people have a nostalgia about, and that’s always dangerous,” professor Randal Jelks of the University of Kansas told NPR’s Sarah McCammon. “Because as I tell my kids all the time, the good old days weren’t as good as people claim they were, they just imagine them to be.”