Torch carrying white nationalist protesters descended on two parks in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest a City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The protesters, led by self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer––who coined the term “alt-right”––gathered in Jackson Park on Saturday afternoon and assembled again that night in Lee Park.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at the afternoon protest. “You will not replace us. You will not destroy us. You cannot destroy us. We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away.”
At the evening rally, the demonstrators chanted “You will not replace us,” “All white lives matter,” the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil,” and “Russia is our friend,” in a display of support for President Donald Trump, who is currently the subject of a probe into whether Russian operatives interfered in last year’s presidential election. Although Trump has denounced the alt-right, Spencer and his supporters credited the Trump insurgency’s hard-line conservative stances on the Muslim refugee crisis, undocumented immigrants and political correctness for bolstering the movement.
The evening protest disbanded about ten minutes in after an altercation between Spencer’s group and counterprotesters drew the attention of police. According to the Charlottesville Police Department, the first officer on the scene found “100 to 150 people in the park many of whom were carrying tiki style torches.” The officer, who called for additional units, ordered everyone to leave the park, and there were no assaults, injuries or damages to the park reported.
Charlottesville Mayor Mark Signer condemned the demonstration, noting that a court injunction has halted the removal of the statue for six months. He openly rebuked Spencer and his followers on Twitter.
I think it’s horrific,” Signer said of the protests when approached by ABC News. “We’re a city that proudly values our diversity.” He pointed out that the protest coincided with the park’s Festival of Cultures event, which, according to the festival’s website, celebrates the “cultural and linguistic diversity” of the local community. Signer said it was not clear if the timing of the protest was deliberate.
“It’s always a balance about how much oxygen you want to give these alt-right bigots,” Signer said when asked how to respond to Spencer and his followers. “It’s important to say that these were just Tiki torches. Based upon what I’m seeing online, the people involved in this have a juvenile mentality and are beneath our contempt.”