Protesters and counter-protesters alike gathered around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue Saturday when members of a Tennessee-based pro-Confederate group arrived in Richmond and rallied in its defense.
Six members of the CSA II: The New Confederate States of America assembled west of the Lee monument around 9:30 a.m. Their Facebook event, “Protect the General Robert E. Lee Monument Rally,” indicated that more than 80 planned to come.
By 10:15 a.m., the zone contained more than 100 people, consisting of both pro-monument supporters and counter-protesters, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Pro-monument protesters argued and debated with counter-protesters in the area.
Kylie Britt, WC' 19, was more than willing to go out and counter-protest in support of people of color.
"As a white ally, my risk of attending was low, and putting my symbolic white body on the street was the best way I could show my support for communities of color who are constantly protecting themselves from threats such as the neo-confederates from Tennessee," Britt said.
The CSA specifically said that hate groups and violent groups were not welcome to protest with them. Tara Brandau, co-planner of the rally, said that she stood against white supremacy.
But, two Jewish teachers claimed to have seen a pro-monument protester wearing a yellow star of David, which historically represented a badge of shame meant to identify Jewish people.
No violence, injuries or accidents were reported, according to Richmond police.
Police in riot gear stood between the six CSA members and the counter-protesters. One student from Virginia Commonwealth University, expressed her frustration at the police protection of the pro-Confederates.
“This is our city, we need to show them they’re not welcome here,” the student said. “They don’t even have a permit. I think it’s ridiculous that there’s five to ten of them and they have a row of cops protecting them. I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think they’re handling it right. People here are offended and they’ve been affected by what [Robert E. Lee] fought for still to this day.”
The CSA members reportedly chanted “All lives matter,” and called the counter-protesters “sheep” against a louder, opposing “Traitors, go home” chant.
The CSA members were led behind the barricade by the police and left the area around 10:45 a.m. The tires on the right side of their truck were reportedly slashed, leaving them to drive away from several dozen counter-protesters who were chasing them, before finally stopping and waiting for a tow truck.
“We were peaceful,” they said to reporters while waiting.
A subsequent demonstration by two protesters carrying Confederate flags followed for 30 minutes. Police escorted the two out afterward.
Mary Gale Atkins, WC‘ 67, a journalism major who was also a staff member on The Collegian, came to protest for love, open dialogue and the bigger picture.
“I think the statues are a red herring," Atkins said. "I’m sure some people are very into their heritage. I’m into the heritage of a bigger thing. My city is not going to be overrun with terror. Let’s think about the city, not the statue in the city."
Thomas and Judy Crompton, leaders of the CSA, planned the rally alongside Tara Brandau, a member of the Florida Three Percent Security Force.
The CSA is a little-known organization in Tennessee that mainly sells Confederate merchandise.
The rally itself remained unauthorized and lacked a permit, but Richmond city officials and police still allowed people to protest.
Expecting counter-protesters, police sectioned off the immediate surrounding area around the Lee monument with a network of barricades, but left three of four paths leading up to it open as “assembly zones.”
These assembly zones banned all weapons except for guns, which are protected under Virginia law. Thomas Crompton was reported carrying a semi-automatic rifle, and other handguns were spotted in the area.
Pro-Confederate protesters were reported present in the western assembly zone, where the CSA was. The Collegian did not see any pro-Confederate protesters in the eastern assembly
Fearing possible outbreaks of violence like that of Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, state police and the division of Capitol Police of Virginia helped Richmond city police provide protection for the event.
Meanwhile, counter-protesters at the Maggie Walker statue at the corner of West Broad and North Adams streets earlier in the morning joined members of Black Lives Matter 757 and Black Lives Matter of Greater New York on the steps of the First English Lutheran Church in Stuart Circle at 10:00 a.m.
“No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA”, they chanted, alongside other chants such as, “We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains”.
“We’re out here because they’re still not listening," Jones said in his speech. "They didn’t shut this down. They’re encouraging this," he said, referring to city officials and the ongoing unauthorized pro-Confederate rally.
In a Richmond Times-Dispatch story on Friday, city officials stated that they had no choice but to allow the rally because blocking it would violate the First Amendment.
Jones said in an interview that Black Lives Matter was present to protect anyone who needs it to make sure that the events of Charlottesville did not occur. He said that BLM was willing to “be like Malcolm” if need be, referring to activist Malcolm X who was controversial for his advocacy of violence.
He also proposed an alternative to destroying the monument.
“If they do keep these statues up, which I don’t mind because it's going to take more money and litigation to pull them down, let’s just build a higher statue saying that we conquered them and get to everything else, like our homeless and our veterans, that we’ve been ignoring every day,” Jones said.
As the crowd gathered into the east assembly zone at 10:25 a.m., a BLM member opened the floor for any speakers, asking that they end their speeches with “F*** Trump."
Anthony of BLM of Greater New York took his turn declaring that the counter-protesters could collectively cause change.
“We are the change that they should be,” Anthony said, pointing both at the statue of Lee and its supporters on the western assembly zone across the barricade.
S. Anderson spoke in support of keeping the monument in an interview. She said that it was important to preserve it as a part of history and heritage of the United States and of Lee.
“While the rich people were fighting to keep slavery, the majority of southerners were fighting to defend their land, their homes, and families,” Anderson said, “That guy from Mississippi who started the clan, I hate that man. I never want to see one of his statues. But I really respect Robert. E. Lee, how he lived his life and after the war too. I respect Lee because he sacrificed everything to do what he thought was his duty.”
In contrast, Rick Armstrong handed out bottled water to anyone in the crowd and claimed that their history itself was the issue.
“They say it’s heritage not hate, but I taught high school history for years," Armstrong said. "Their heritage is hate. It’s about slavery. The whole concept of the Confederacy is based on keeping slavery alive. They can deny it if they want to but that’s the fact. This statue is of a traitor who turned against his own country to side with the Confederate states. We’re the only country that raises statues to traitors. We’re the only country who gives statues to losers."
By 1:15 p.m., protests in the assembly zones started to end. After marching and protesting around the city, the remaining counter-protesters dispersed by the evening.
Seven total arrests were made, according to police. Four were for wearing masks in public, which is illegal in Virginia. The other three were for disorderly conduct, possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Contact news writer Arrman Kyaw and features editor Sara Minnich at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.