Wrestling with the past

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/15/2017, 6:28 a.m.
Was it a victory for white supremacy?

Neo-Confederates again outnumbered at snowy second Monument Ave. rally

By Saraya Wintersmith

A small band of armed neo-Confederates protesting the possible removal of Confederate statues on Richmond’s Monument Avenue were met last Saturday by a vocal group of counterprotesters rankled by the amount of money the Confederate rallies are costing the city.

The four-hour protest, the second in the city since mid-September by the Tennessee-based CSA II: The New Confederate States of America, was muted in part by chilly temperatures and snowy conditions Saturday and the low-key efforts by Richmond Police beforehand to deal with the rally without drawing wider public attention and potentially more protesters.

Police largely kept the 15 neo-Confederates and the 30 or so counterprotesters separated as they walked around the state-owned statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Many of the Confederate supporters were dressed in camouflage clothing. Several had assault weapons and other rifles slung over their shoulders.

The initial rally on Sept. 16, which drew a handful of CSA II members and several hundred counterprotesters, cost the city more than a half a million dollars, mostly for police overtime and equipment. Richmond Police declined to release information about the number of officers at Saturday’s rally. Even though police presence was visibly reduced compared to the first rally, the expense became a point of contention on Saturday as counterprotesters loudly addressed and taunted the neo-Confederates.

“That $570,000 could’ve gone to our schools, to fix our public transportation, to fix our roads,” Joseph Rogers said over a speaker system. “But, instead, it was wasted on your rally and protecting these statues,” he said as counterprotesters unfurled a gigantic receipt representing the debt it said CSA II owes to the City of Richmond.

“Here is your bill. We take cash,” Mr. Rogers continued. “But if you really want to, you can start a GoFundMe and raise it for yourself,” he said, alluding to the crowdfunding account CSA II members launched when their tires were flattened and they were stranded in Richmond after their last rally.

Thomas E. Crompton, who calls himself the “commanding general” of CSA II, insisted that the Civil War was not about slavery and that the monuments don’t honor anything negative.

“They glorify the fact of individuals willing to stand up against tyranny by the federal government and over taxation by the federal government,” he said.

Several others with the “Protect All the Monuments on Monument Avenue Rally” said they want to stop the “myths” surrounding the Confederacy and that the statues should remain for their educational value.

A few repeatedly insisted that if Richmond’s monuments come down, as they have in other cities, an unspecified portion of history “will repeat itself.”

Gene Stilp, an activist from Pennsylvania, stood with counterprotesters opposed to maintaining the Confederate symbols.

“When they say, ‘Heritage not hate,’ the history of the Confederate flag is hate,” he said.

Mr. Stilp asked volunteers to help him rip into pieces a flag that showed the Confederate battle flag on one side and the Nazi flag with a Swastika on the other. He has traveled to several states burning similar banners outside of courthouses and NASCAR events. He said Saturday that combining the two flags encourages people to think about the ideologies they represent.