Mayor Mike Signer of Charlottesville, Virginia, condemned a nighttime demonstration by persons who oppose the removal of statues and monuments honoring heroes of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall Jackson”. In a statement, Signer declared, “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 added, “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.”
“I think it’s horrific,” Signer told ABC News afterward. “We’re a city that proudly values our diversiSpencer spoke to The Guardian after the protest, saying that the torches were “a way to communicate with the dead” and were not meant to be a throwback to the Klan.ty.” Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson. Dozens of protesters gathered at Lee Park at about 9 p.m. bearing torches. They chanted: “You will not replace us,” “Blood and soil” and “Russia is our friend.” Both Lee and Jackson were native sons of Virginia.
Notable white nationalist Richard Spencer was on hand. In a Periscope video, he stated, “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced.” He is sometimes credited with coining the term “alt-right.” A graduate of the University of Virginia, Spencer led an afternoon rally as well as the nighttime protest.
Police came to the scene of the torch-lit protest and found approximately 150 people at Lee Park. When officers told the group to leave, as additional police units arrived, the group left peaceably. No arrests were made.
In April, a judge issued an injunction preventing the city from selling the statue of Robert E. Lee for at least six months. Signer has supported a plan to design new monuments that would “add to history” and “challenge and transform” the legacy of slavery and racism that some believe that the Confederate statues represent.
Spencer was once a fervent supporter of Donald Trump. However, since the cruise-missile strikes by the U.S. on the forces of Assad, an ally of Russia, his liking for the president has apparently diminished. "This is a betrayal of the meaning of his candidacy," Spencer said. "He ran on America first, we're not going to do all that crap of Barack Obama, Libya, all that kind of stuff. We're not going to do all those disastrous wars of George W. Bush. No, it's different. It's America first." Spencer asserts that Trump broke a promise by attacking Assad's forces.
The statues have become a focal point for Corey Stewart, a Republican who is running for governor of Virginia. Stewart chairs the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and was chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign until he was fired. According to the Washington Post, there was no indication that Stewart attended either rally. A defender of the Confederate flag and monuments, Stewart has said that he is not promoting symbols of hate but battling “political correctness” and “historical vandalism.”
Spencer told The Guardian newspaper that the torches at the rally were “a way to communicate with the dead” and were not meant to recall the Ku Klux Klan.