By Will Clemons
In 1924, in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a Confederate reunion, a group of over 100 cadets, wearing the colors of the South, unveiled a memorial to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
On May 13th 2017, a group of white nationalists, including the infamous Richard Spencer, converged upon the memorial statue, which had been decided earlier last year to be removed because of allusions to the history of the Confederacy. The group had assembled to protest the removal of the statue, claiming that the its removal censors the history of the Confederacy and the heritage of not only many Virginians, but also many Americans.
The general feeling behind those who protested the statue’s removal was driven by the sentiments of the alt-right; that is centered on white nativism and anti-government feelings. The bolstering of the alt-right’s fear of historic erasure of the Confederacy is an idea that has existed for many years, but has sprung up again because of several events, including Wal-Mart getting rid of merchandise including Confederate flags.
Many people who feel history is being erased also feel that the alt-right is a group with views parallel to their own, thanks to globalization and the internet. However, there are also a large number of people who feel that it is right to protect the wellbeing of black people, American or otherwise, and see the resurgence of Confederate racial isolationism as an intrusion on the protection of civil liberties.
Both opposing viewpoints manifested last week in a protest and counter-protest. White nationalists repeated a phrase throughout the night, “You will not replace us.” Clearly the point of the protesters were to protect their heritage, and the statue is an extension of that heritage.
However, many dissenters of the statue found the protest to be an affront to the people affected by the ideals and actions of the Confederacy, including Jim Crow Laws, the protection of slavery and slave-owners, and the aggressive racism prevalent throughout American culture for years after the Civil War ended.
Richard Spencer is the man whose face was spotlighted in the video that circulated the internet, where Spencer, while being interviewed about the alt-right, was hit in the face by some passerby. Spencer led the torch-bearing, white-shirted group last week, where he shouted things like, “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced!”
The reaction to the protest of the statue’s removal reached a peak when, the next day, a counter-protest was held. Many people arrived at the Jefferson Davis memorial in support of the statue’s removal. The counter-protest, as well as the original protest, was peaceful, and involved no violence and almost no confrontation, giving a positive outsider’s view of each protest.
The protest against the statue’s removal also received national attention, from sources including news outlets like NPR and the Washington Post. A statement was given from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, where they described the statue’s removal, as well as the trend of statue removals across the country, as an “ISIS-like effort to erase history and culture,” and “should be a crime.” The organization also stated that, “When the anarchists and Marxists control the government, then New Orleans is what we get,” in reference to the removal of a similar Jefferson Davis statue memorial in New Orleans.