The 20-year-old university student who was photographed holding a Tiki torch and shouting during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Friday night says he’s “not the angry racist they see in that photo.”
Speaking with Reno’s KTVN Channel 2 News, the man at the centre of the now viral photo from the so-call Alt-Right rally, says he’s not a racist.
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“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Peter Cvjetanovic told the news station. “It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However, I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E. Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honour and respect what he stood for during his time.”
The large group of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and members of the so-called Alt-Right marched through the University of Virginia campus to the school’s statue of founding father Thomas Jefferson, where they were met by a much smaller group of student counter-protesters, who were eventually surrounded.
Punches were thrown and several people had to be treated for minor injuries, with police eventually breaking up the skirmish and arresting at least one person. The march was a lead-up to the planned “Unite the Right” rally, a protest against the impending removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, the latest in a growing and controversial movement to take down Confederate statues and monuments in various U.S. cities.
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Emancipation Park was called Lee Park until just two months ago, when Charlottesville city council voted to rename it. Jason Kessler, who organized the rally, actively campaigned against the renaming of the downtown park, telling WHLM radio that Lee was looked up to by white people who feel threatened by multiculturalism and “ethnic cleansing.”
The photo of Cvjetanovic from Friday night’s torch march was widely circulated on social media with many calling the University of Nevada student a “Nazi” and a “white supremacist.”
“I did not expect the photo to be shared as much as it was. I understand the photo has a very negative connotation. But I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo,” Cvjetanovic told KTVN. “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
The University of Nevada, Reno issued a statement Sunday denouncing the violence over the weekend.
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“We have been witness to the violence that has taken place this weekend during the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. One of the marchers photographed has been identified as a University of Nevada, Reno student. Racism and white supremacist movements have a corrosive effect on our society. These movements do not represent our values as a university,” university president Marc A. Johnson said in a statement. “We denounce any movement that targets individuals due to the colour of their skin, their religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientation, ability/disability, or whether they were born in our country. As an institution, we remain firm in our commitment in denouncing all forms of bigotry and racism, which have no place in a free and equal society.”
–with a file from Rahul Kalvapalle