White nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., aren’t too happy about the state’s efforts to rid them of their Confederate monuments.
With torches in hand, several dozen protesters gathered at Charlottesville’s Lee Park shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday, May 13, chanting “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend,” according to local paper The Daily Progress. The large group of demonstrators, who showed up to protest the state’s decision to remove the park’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, was led by none other than notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer declared at an evening protest reminiscent of a fiery KKK gathering.
The rallies come just weeks after the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the statue of Lee that stands in the historic park, The Daily Progress reported. However, a judge issued a temporary injunction earlier this month that would prevent the city from doing so for at least six months. The injunction stopped short of stopping the city’s plans to rename both Lee and Jackson parks, the latter named in honor of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
— Richard 🦁 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) May 14, 2017
"Russia is our friend," in Lee Park. pic.twitter.com/uNKMoKRegF
— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
The decision to remove the monument has drawn considerable backlash from Confederate apologist groups, Republican leaders and Virginians across the state. Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer rebuked Saturday night’s protest, however, calling the event “either profoundly ignorant” or “designed to instill fear.”
“Either way, as mayor of this city, I want everyone to know this: We reject this intimidation,” Signer said in a statement. “We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”
The Daily Progress reported that police were called in shortly after a fight broke out between two protesters that night. The crowd was quickly dispersed without further incident, the cops said. A separate rally also took place at Jackson Park that day, also headlined by Spencer.
In response, a counter-protest was held at Lee Park Sunday following the alt-right torch bearers’ rally that had occurred the night before. There, members of local organizations Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter and many other activist groups were among the demonstrators who lit candles and vowed to “take back Lee Park.”
“We will not let you come in and take over and have your way,” protester Don Gathers told the crowd Sunday night. “I don’t care who’s in the White House, I don’t care who’s in Congress. We are going to take control of this city and we are going to do it the proper way, the legal way. It might take six months to take care of this situation, but we’re not going to give up the fight.”
Candlelight vigil against hate in Cville. These are the kind of "torches" I like to see. pic.twitter.com/rGQ6GDgnKw
— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) May 15, 2017
The counter-protest didn’t go down without incident, however. Charlottesville police spokesman Lt. Steve Upman confirmed that right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, who was part of the torch-toting group led by Spencer the previous night, was among three people arrested at the rally. Kessler was booked for disorderly conduct, while another protester was arrested for assaulting a police officer. A third person was also taken into custody for assaulting Kessler by “spitting on him.”
The Monument Fund, which is suing the city of Charlottesville over its decision to remove the Lee statue, has since disavowed this weekend’s protests, making clear it had no ties to either of them.
“We remain committed to preserving the Robert E. Lee Monument in its park through the legal process in the courts because of its historic and artistic value,” members of the fund said in a statement posted to their Facebook page.”
“We soundly and completely reject racism, white supremacy and any other identity-based groups that preach division and hate, no matter which side of the issue they happen to support.”