The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va. was surrounded by adoring eyes that reflected the flickering flames of lit torches. Chants of “You will not replace us” and “No more brother wars” could be heard from the crowd of Confederate sympathizers, according to NBC News.
This incident didn’t happen during the Reconstruction era or the near-century of Jim Crow. No. This happened this past weekend in 2017.
“Alt-right”/Neo-nazi sympathizers, white supremacists and far-right wing conservatives gathered in the dozens to protest the removal of monuments to the Confederacy that’s sweeping across the American South. Richard Spencer, the new face of white supremacy that became famous when it was punched in D.C., was among them. Spencer showed his support for the protest by posting a picture of himself holding a torch that could’ve come right out of a Ku Klux Klan rally in the had it been in black and white.
— Cecilia Davenport (@CWDaven) May 14, 2017
"Russia is our friend," in Lee Park. pic.twitter.com/uNKMoKRegF
— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, which is actually Spencer’s alma mater and played a role in his later life adoption of fascist practices, according to his profile in The Atlantic. Despite some local politicians, including Mayor Mike Signer, disagree with the removal of the monuments, the response to the protest was almost universal: It was done in horrible taste.
“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,” said Signer.
Police arrived within 10 minutes to disperse the crowd. There were no reports of injuries or any arrests made.
It would be easy to end this story with the news of the “alt-right”/Neo-nazi protest. It proves that outward acts of racism, bigotry and intimidation aren’t nearly as much of an outlier as some may think. But residents of Charlottesville responded to the” alt-right” protest with one of their very own. Later this weekend, a crowd much larger in size gathered with candles to share a message of solidarity.
— Jennifer F Smith (@JFSmith434) May 15, 2017
As we head deeper into the Trump administration, things will likely get worse before they get better. While the torch-burning display may be Spencer’s most public act of racism, it’s surely not his most toxic. He regularly regurgitates Nazi/fascist teachings and has gone as far as to use the phrase “Hail Trump” when speaking to his supporters. Meanwhile, the rest of us just have to remember that this isn’t normal and shouldn’t be treated as such.