Thousands gather in Charlottesville to protest removal of Robert E. Lee statue
Thousands gather in Charlottesville to protest removal of Robert E. Lee statue

The city of Charlottesville, Virginia has seen numerous protests following its February decision to remove a bronze statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park). 

Removal of the statue, which is still on hold pending litigation, is expected to cost the city as much as $330,000.

Thousands of people gathered in Charlottesville this Saturday to attend the “Unite the Right” rally in support of the statue, organized by local blogger and activist Jason Kessler - an event criticized by The Washington Post as the "largest white supremacist gathering in a decade.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had the National Guard on “standby” in expectation of violence. 

The trouble began on Friday night when a gang of torch-wielding protestors clashed with counter-protestors on the University of Virginia campus. 

“I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Singer.

However, the ACLU was also involved (believe it or not) on the side of the protestors. “[The ACLU] sent a letter to the city in response to their letter stating that we are now legally representing Mr. Kessler,” Whitehead said. “The First Amendment requires there be a compelling interest to restrict speech and that has to be a safety issue. The people who have the permit have been shown to be peaceful so far, so there is no compelling interest that has been shown.” 

“[The ACLU] sent a letter to the city in response to their letter stating that we are now legally representing Mr. Kessler,” Whitehead said. “The First Amendment requires there be a compelling interest to restrict speech and that has to be a safety issue. The people who have the permit have been shown to be peaceful so far, so there is no compelling interest that has been shown.” 

However despite moving the venue to a "safer" venue, the local police neglected to provide the proper security for the rally. 

Fistfights and screaming matches broke out on Saturday morning as thousands of people gathered in advance of the rally. Counter-protestors held signs that read, “Take your racist KKK bullsh-t out of Virginia.” 

One person was killed when a car drove into a crowded street, and McAuliffe declared a state of emergency later that day after a helicopter crash killed two more people (the media seems to want to blame this on the rally, but this crash was unrelated to the rally). Over 30 others were injured. 

“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: go home,” said McAuliffe in a speech Saturday night. “You came today to hurt people, and you did hurt people. My message is clear: we are stronger than you…you will not succeed. There is no place for you here, there is no place for you in America.” 

The Left has repeatedly called the rally a “white nationalist” march, but event organizer Kessler does not characterize it that way. As Kessler explains, the statue of Robert E. Lee is not just a reminder of slavery:

“The statue itself is symbolic of a lot of larger issues. The primary three issues are preserving history against this censorship and revisionism – this political correctness. The second issue is being allowed to advocate for your interests as a white person, just like other groups are allowed to advocate for their interests politically. And finally, this is about free speech. We are simply trying to express ourselves and do a demonstration, and the local government has tried to shut us down.”

Kessler says he does not consider himself a white nationalist. 

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Robert E. Lee went down in history as one of the most successful Confederate generals during the Civil War. He is also the person who surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865. 

Over 1,000 Confederate monuments have been erected since the end of the Civil War – some in states that weren’t even involved in the war. The movement to take these monuments down began in 2015 when a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Since then, over 60 Confederate symbols have been removed from cities across the country.

Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue was built 59 years after the end of the Civil War. It was commissioned by Paul Goodloe McIntire, a philanthropist whose name is all over the University of Virginia. 

McIntire’s contributions to the city include four parks (one of which is named after Booker T. Washington), support for the city’s first library, a statue of Lewis and Clark, and a statue of George Rogers Clark 

There is even a local award named after him, the Paul Goodloe McIntire Citizenship Award. 

Editor's note: The violence is the fault of the local police and Governor McAuliffe who did not provide proper security for the event. McAuliffe also bears personal responsibility in his pronouncements to the public, giving tacit permission to counter-protestors to interfere and cause violence. Obama had similar comments that inflamed the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. 

This is a sad day for government and freedom of speech.


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