White supremacists staged a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia late Saturday night, complete with torches and pro-Trump chants. The rally was ostensibly to protest the state’s decision to sell off a statue of treasonous general Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against the United States during the Civil War.
But despite some attendees attempts to downplay the rally—one known white supremacist laughably described it as a candlelight protest—the images from the scene harkened back to the height of the Ku Klux Klan, who would routinely use torches and crosses set aflame to attack or intimidate black citizens.
Lee Park right now…. pic.twitter.com/WZ2x0JsueE
— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
Recent efforts to remove or minimize Confederate imagery in southern states has been met with some resistance by racists, who argue that things like Confederate flags—literally a symbol for the overthrow of the United States—are merely part of their U.S. heritage. But for Americans, the symbol is a painful reminder of slavery and those who fought to defend it.
States like South Carolina—where a white supremacist opened fire in a black church in Charleston, killing 9—have taken steps to remove the flag from state property. The latest battle over Confederate icons involve the myriad statues, parks, buildings and public roadways that commemorate Confederate war generals like Robert E. Lee.
Saturday night’s rally was held at the foot of a statue depicting Robert E. Lee, which sits in Charlotesville’s Lee Park. Richard Spencer, a Nazi most famous for getting punched in the face during Donald Trump’s inauguration, was in attendance for the Charlottesville rally and for a similar one that took place earlier in the day at nearby Jackson Park (named after Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general).
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer condemned the rally and its attendees.
“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,” he said in a statement.
It’s unclear who was behind the white supremacist rallies, but they also made a point to defend Donald Trump, at one point chanting “Russia is our friend.”