President Donald Trump’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has “quietly” spent millions of dollars on private security for Confederate cemeteries since the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.
The effort is “aimed at preventing the kind of damage that befell Confederate memorials across the U.S. in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence,” according to a new report from the Associated Press, which reveals the VA has already spent almost $3 million on round-the-clock private security for at least eight Confederate cemeteries.
Records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act show that the VA has spent nearly $3 million on the cemetery security since August 2017. Another $1.6 million is budgeted for fiscal 2019 to pay for security at all Confederate monuments, which could include other sites. The agency has not determined when the security will cease.
There have been no incidents of vandalism in the privately-guarded cemeteries since paint was added to a Confederate monument in Springfield, Missouri right before Trump visited the city in September 2017. A spokeswoman for the VA defended the spending in a statement.
Private security was needed “to ensure the safety of staff, property and visitors paying respect to those interred,” Jessica Schiefer, spokeswoman for the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, said in a statement. The agency “has a responsibility to protect the federal property it administers and will continue to monitor and assess the need for enhanced security going forward.”
Despite near-universal condemnation of the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville to oppose the city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, Trump instead said “many sides” were to blame for the violence in an infamous press conference. The president’s remarks were praised by white supremacists.