Several dozen protesters gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to express support for a Robert E. Lee statue that is set to be removed. The group made its point by lighting torchers and chanting Nazi rhetoric as well as “Russia is our friend.” Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed white nationalist, was at the protest and also led an earlier rally against the removal of the statue that has become a centerpiece of Corey Stewart’s campaign in his bid to be elected Virginia governor this year. “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at the first rally.
Some protesters at the afternoon Jackson Park rally spoke to the press and denied they were white supremacists. “We are simply just white people that love our heritage, our culture, our European identity,” one protester said.
Later that night, dozens gathered in Lee Park and surrounded a statue of the Confederate general that the City Council has voted to remove and replace with a new memorial dedicated to slaves. The protesters chanted, “You will not replace us” and “Blood and soil.” Yes, they were chanting a phrase that was popularized in Nazi Germany.
The protest didn’t last long as the white supremacists extinguished their torches when police surrounded the park. But they had made their point. “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,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said in a statement.
There was no sign that Stewart, who is taking part in the June 13 GOP primary, was in any way involved in the protest, which was condemned by several of the other candidates for governor. A group that is suing to keep the statue in place denied any involvement in the protest Saturday night. “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,” the group said in a Facebook post. “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.”