On a rainy Saturday night in Charlottesville, a group of protestors gathered in the darkness of a local park. They carried tiki torches, their flames flickering ominously on the underbelly of the massive bronze horse upon which sat the stoic general Robert E. Lee. So, what exactly were they protesting?
Many of the headlines read that a "white supremacist mob protested the removal of confederate monuments." While these headlines may be true, the goals of Charlottesville's torch wielding protestors are far more complex than just protesting the removal of monuments.
The march was indeed a response to a recent vote
to remove confederate monuments from the city's parks. The nationwide backlash against Confederate monuments came in the wake of the murder of nine black parishioners
at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a self-professed white supremacist. The removal of the monuments is an especially divisive issue in Virginia, home to Civil war reenactors and descendants of Southern soldiers.
In reflection on the weekend's events
Vincent Law, Alt-Right writer, commented on the vote:
This distasteful act by the local government and citizens is just one of many actions taken to erase the history and memory of the white southern people in Charlottesville."
While the removal of the monuments sparked their protests, the Alt-right's dedication to protect confederate monuments is more complex than that. A group dedicated to the preservation of the monuments
has even spoken out against the Saturday's demonstration: so who was the group, and what were they protesting?
The Alt-Right's Explanation
The protest was led by Richard Spencer, who rose to internet infamy after an anarchist punched him
on live TV. Spencer is also known for coining the term "Alternative Right", or Alt-Right. John Daniszewski of the Associated Press defined the movement
The “alt-right” or “alternative right” is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order."
A writer for the website Spencer founded
described Saturday's march as a "MASSIVE Rally to Defend White Heritage." Vincent Law wrote
This wasn’t a rally to declare support for the cause of Southern Nationalism or the Confederacy. It was a rally to declare support for White Identity. We live in a new paradigm now."
[caption id="attachment_1516" align="alignnone" width="750"]
Photo of the Lee statue among a sea of flags. Photo from alternativeright.com[/caption]
The march began early in the day with a procession of white-clothed people carrying Confederate flags and signs that said "Our History, Culture, Identity are all Under Attack!" Charlottesville's torch wielding protestors chanted collectively "We will not be replaced," "Russia is our friend," and "No more brother wars."
"No More Brother Wars"
"Brother Wars" refers to a common idiom said about the Civil war; the war literally had "brother fighting against brother." Groups like the Alt-right have since repurposed the idiom. The suggestion is that wars like the Civil War, which involve individuals of European descent fighting each other, distract white people from the larger fight with the real "
A popular image depicts
two white WWI era soldiers lighting each other's cigarettes; the text reads: "Next time we fight, it's side by side."
So, who exactly will they be fighting? This key information is withheld. Perhaps Richard Spencer's take on the Civil War will illuminate the mystery surrounding the Alt-right's fight to memorialize the war.
Richard Spencer on the Civil War
In an article titled "Trump is Right: No More Brothers’ Wars
," Spencer writes:
...Slavery and racism were America’s Original Sin. The Debt was paid through the blood sacrifice of half a million White people, Northern and Southern."
In other words, Charlottesville's Torch Wielding Protestors weren't just there to declare their confederate heritage as important. Instead, the protestors feel that white people died unjustly during the Civil War. Whites were forced to fight amongst themselves as penance for the enslavement of people of color. Thus, the removal of Civil War monuments is a dismissal of the immense sacrifice white people
made. To show their outrage at this erasure of history, the Alt-Right protected a memorial for a Confederate general -- a general who made a successful military career
out of marching white American soldiers to their deaths.
So, now that the logic and intentions of the demonstrators are clear, the response from the Charlottesville community has been made even clearer.
The Mayor of Charlottesville and the People Respond
The Mayor of Charlottesville, Mike Signer, condemned the demonstration
, stating that he "think[s] it's horrific... We're a city that proudly values our diversity." Signer said the use of torches by the protestors hearkened back to the fear tactics used by the domestic terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan. After making his stance clear, anti-semitic and homophobic trolls attacked
Signer on Twitter. Alternativeright.com's Vincent Law also described the Mayor as "a devout anti-White advocate" and referenced an anti-semitic meme. You can dig that one up for yourself if you feel so inclined.
The Alt-Right's coverage of the demonstration would lead readers to believe it was a huge success; yet, after 10 minutes, scuffles broke out and law enforcement ended the demonstration
. On Sunday, a crowd gathered in the park to hold a "candle lit vigil against hate." This vigil allowed the rest of the majority white
Charlottesville to show their support for the removal of the monument.
Some suspect that the vote itself was symbolic. Those who oppose the removal of the monuments have already filed a suit
to stop the process. The Monument Fund,
a group dedicated to preserving the monuments, provided a less racially-biased explanation for the lawsuit:
If we remove the monuments, we are trying to hide our own history, destroying irreplaceable historical evidence, works of art, and for what?” the statement said. “What do we gain? An empty lawn teaches nothing.”
A Facebook page
dedicated to the preservation of the monument released the following statement:
It has come to our attention that several out-of-town groups associated with white supremacy and identarian beliefs conducted events and protests in both Lee and Jackson Parks today. Neither Save the Robert E. Lee Statue nor The Monument Fund were in any way involved in these events and only learned of them though media reports.
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. 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."
Overall, the events of this weekend are a testament to the United States' deeply complicated history of race relations; while some see the removal of Confederate monuments as a restoration of historical justice, others see it as a direct attack on what they believe is their heritage as white Americans.
Yet, the truth is that every American has the right to espouse their beliefs. As opposing views become louder and louder, tension will continue to build. And thus Americans will remain embattled over what their history means, and therefore, what their future holds.
What is your take on the intention of Saturday's protest? Do you think the monuments should be removed? Are you part of the Virginia community? Share your perspective in the comments below.