Hundreds of protesters gathered for a candlelit “vigil against hate” on Sunday night in Charlottesville, Virginia, one day after a smaller number of white supremacists carrying torches had rallied at the same spot — around a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, which the city council recently voted to remove.
Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer, was among the city residents praising the counter-demonstration to “take back Lee Park.”
Allison Wrabel of Charlottesville’s Daily Progress reported that the protest on Sunday was larger than the gathering the night before.
Images and sound recorded by Wrabel on Saturday night showed the white supremacists holding torches and chanting, “Russia is our friend” and “You will not replace us,” which is a white supremacist rallying cry.
Another chant, “Blood and soil,” was an ethnic-nationalist slogan used by the Nazis. The pro-Russia chanting reflects the high regard many American white supremacists have for blond, blue-eyed Slavs.
Before the torches were lit, the rally on Saturday was addressed by Richard Spencer, the white supremacist Trump supporter who coined the term “alt-right” in an effort to rebrand nativist American racism. After Spencer shared video of his speech — to a handful of like-minded defenders of the Confederacy — the city’s mayor responded online.
Later that night, Mayor Signer said in a statement that the torchlit rally around Lee’s statue “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.”
Within hours, the mayor reported that he had become the target of anti-Semitic abuse from Trump-supporting Twitter accounts.
Signer had in fact voted against removing the statue of Lee, arguing instead for an alternative proposal — to “transform in place,” and better explain “the racism and white supremacy of our past,” by creating “a magnificent new memorial to civil rights victories in Lee Park,” which would put the old monument to the Confederacy into a new context.
As images of the rally on Saturday night circulated online, others chose to confront the wannabe Nazis with simple mockery.