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Alt-Right Protesters Descend On Charlottesville

Saturday night saw a sight that hasn’t been seen in Thomas Jefferson’s home in quite a long time, if ever.  Richard Spencer, alt-right mouthpiece and Youtube [1] celebrity, led a torchlight rally at the beleaguered Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park, Charlottesville.

Laura Vozella from The Washington Post [2] reports:

“Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group of demonstrators carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” Saturday in Charlottesville, protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument that has played an outsize role in this year’s race for Virginia governor.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at the first of two rallies he led in the college town where he once attended the University of Virginia.

At the second rally, dozens of torch-bearing protesters gathered [3] in a city park Saturday evening and chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend,” local television footage shows. Spencer was not shown addressing that gathering, but he tweeted a photo of himself standing in the crowd carrying what appeared to be a bamboo tiki torch.

The evening protest was short-lived. About 10 minutes in, an altercation between Spencer’s group and counterprotesters drew police to the scene, and the crowd quickly dispersed, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.

“You will not replace us. You will not destroy us,” Spencer said at the earlier rally, which he broadcast via Periscope video [4]. “You cannot destroy us. We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away.”

Spencer was in Charlottesville to protest a City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A court injunction has halted the removal for six months.

The statue has become a rallying cry for a Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart. Stewart, who is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, was chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign until he was fired.

In defending the Confederate battle flag and monuments, Stewart has said that he is not promoting symbols of hate but battling “political correctness” and “historical vandalism.”

Stewart did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. He kept a relatively low-profile on Twitter.

“The ugly display of divisive rhetoric and intimidation tactics in Charlottesville yesterday … does not reflect the thoughtfulness and tolerance I see in my fellow Virginians everywhere I go,” Gillespie tweeted.

State Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), who faces Stewart and Gillespie in the June 13 GOP primary, said via email: “These actions are totally unacceptable. These people are racists. They don’t represent Virginia values. I condemn their actions and beliefs. I call on all Virginians who are involved in efforts to advocate for or against Virginia’s history to act responsibly and honorably.”

In a statement, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck had this to say:

“Whatever label these people try to call themselves, the fact remains that racism has no place in our society. The GOP was created in the mid-1800’s to end slavery and fight for freedom for all people, which we still stand for today. The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and pushed through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. Republicans, Democrats and Independents in Virginia should all agree that the ideology behind this protest should be vehemently rejected.”

In a surprising example of self-control, Corey Stewart has yet to opine on the rally.  Late Sunday evening, Corey Stewart’s twitter feed, as well as campaign communications staffer Noel Fritsch tweeted this in response to Richmond Times Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw’s tweet.  As an aside, it’s absurd to pretend that Mother’s Day is some kind of inviolate holiday on which campaigning must cease, and the excuse of Mother’s Day to refuse to make a public statement makes one question what other Hallmark Holidays Corey would use as an excuse to get around doing his job.  “Sorry, it’s Office Assistant Appreciation Day – can’t comment on this.”

Corey Stewart and his Campaign Spokesperson replied:

Regardless of Corey’s sudden lockjaw, it’s clear that this was not the run of the mill “heritage not hate” rally.  This was a thinly veiled white supremacist rally, led by one of the most notorious alt-right agitators in the country today.  You can read what they wrote about their own rally [17] and it’s completely clear what this was actually about – and it wasn’t about the Lee statue.

Let me remind everyone of the words of the most notable resident of Charlottesville [18], because his words spoke to this quite clearly.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Also, since we are all good Republicans, let us be reminded of the words of the father of the Republican Party of Virginia, Richard Obenshain.  His Republican Creed [19] laid out, in clearest view, the stance that all Republicans can rally around when it comes to the question of equality.

“That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,”

Make no mistake – this was not simply a rally of activists at the Lee statue. We have seen dozens of those rallies over the last year, some even led by candidates for elected office.  This rally, with bussed in protesters from around the south, was different.  Torchlight parades have passed from the mainstream of our political experience and into the fringes.  They evoke the imagery of Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan.  They are designed to intimidate.  Spencer and his gang knew what they were doing.

It’s incumbent upon Republicans and Democrats to stand together against this kind of hate.  It’s antithetical to the ideals Americans have long cherished.  For Republicans, it’s antithetical to our founding as the party that freed the slaves and saved the union, and was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights era laws that reversed a close to a century of Democratic Jim Crow rule in the south.

Ed Gillespie and Senator Frank Wagner should be commended. Not only commended but praised by every Republican for standing up for the Virginia Way and for the American way. Either one of these men could make a fine Governor of Virginia. While I have my favorite of the two, it takes real courage to stand up to the hatred of  Richard Spencer and the alt-right, given the harassment tactics and worse they’ve been willing to deploy against their enemies. Anyone who can stand quietly as our society is being divided by the likes of Spencer should not have a respected voice within the Republican Party.

Corey Stewart has made the protection of the Lee statue his primary and most visible campaign issue.  that two days have passed without his commenting on this rally speaks volumes, especially given his criticism of other candidates for failing to comment directly on issues of the day, no matter how divorced from the governor’s race those issues may be.  His silence so far is deafening.

All Republicans should stand together in condemning this kind of blatantly racist behavior.  Those who are unwilling to do so, especially out of something as low as political pandering, should never hold elected office in the Commonwealth.