CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A group that included a well-known white nationalist carried torches and chanted “you will not replace us” at a weekend protest in Virginia over plans to remove a monument of a Confederate general.
The protesters on Saturday evening called on officials to halt the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville and were swiftly condemned by the city’s mayor, who said the event appeared to hearken “back to the days of the KKK,” the Daily Progress newspaper reported.
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Among those at the protest were Richard Spencer, a while nationalist who popularized the phrase “alt-right” and is a leading figure in a fringe movement that has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.
“We will not be replaced from this park,” Spencer told the crowd at a different rally held hours earlier in Charlottesville on Saturday. “We will not be replaced from this world. Whites have a future. We have a future of power, of beauty, of expression,” he said.
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Spencer, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, hosted a postelection conference in the nation’s capital last November that ended with audience members mimicking Nazi salutes after Spencer shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Spencer also has advocated for an “ethno-state” that would be a “safe space” for white people
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said in a statement that Saturday’s protest was either “profoundly ignorant” or meant to instil fear in minorities “in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK.”
“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.”
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Erich Reimer, chairman of the Charlottesville Republican Party, said in a statement that the “intolerance and hatred” that the protesters are seeking to promote is “utterly disgusting and disturbing beyond words,” The Daily Progress reported.
The debate over Confederate symbols has swept through cities across the South since the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The gunman was a self-avowed white supremacist.
In Virginia, Republican Corey Stewart’s vocal support for the Lee statue also has pushed the issue into the state’s high-profile race for governor. Stewart has pledged that no Confederate monuments would be removed if he is elected.
In New Orleans, workers on Thursday removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the second of four monuments to Confederate era figures the city has voted to remove. Late last month, the city removed a 35-foot tall granite obelisk tribute to whites who battled a biracial Reconstruction government installed in New Orleans after the Civil War.
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The Charlottesville City Council voted last month to sell the Lee statue, but a judge has agreed to a temporary injunction that blocks Charlottesville from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported. The city also plans to rename Lee Park and another park named after another famed Confederate, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
© 2017 The Canadian Press