Mayor condemns torch-bearing protesters defending Confederate statue

Torch-bearing protesters gather at Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. (Allison Wrabel/The Daily Progress via ABC News)
Protesters gather at Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. (Allison Wrabel/The Daily Progress via ABC News)

The mayor of Charlottesville, Va., condemned Saturday night’s demonstration by a large group of torch-bearing white nationalists who were protesting the removal of statues honoring Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park 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,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said in a statement. “Either way, as mayor of this city, I want everyone to know this: We reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”

“I think it’s horrific,” Signer told ABC News. “We’re a city that proudly values our diversity.”

According to the Daily Progress, a local newspaper, several dozen protesters gathered in the park around 9 p.m. carrying torches and chanting, “You will not replace us,” “Blood and soil” and “Russia is our friend.”

A spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department told Yahoo News that the first responding officer on the scene “observed 100 to 150 people in the park, many of whom were carrying tiki-style torches.” The officer said that several members of the large group were arguing with single male who was yelling at them “to leave my town.” The officer began telling the group to leave the park, and “as additional units arrived, all parties involved began to leave the park without incident.”

No assaults, injuries or damage to the park were reported, and no arrests were made, the spokesman said.

Last month, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the Lee statue, but a judge later issued an injunction preventing the city from doing so for six months. In February, Signer signaled his support of a plan not to move the statues but instead design new monuments that “add to history” and “challenge and transform” the Jim Crow legacy that some believe the statues represent. The City Council is expected to meet again Monday to discuss the issue.

Richard Spencer — noted white nationalist and leader of the so-called alt-right — was among the torch-carrying protesters.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said in a video he posted using Periscope.

Tom Perriello, a Virginia gubernatorial candidate, lashed out at Spencer on Twitter.

“Get your white supremacist hate out of my hometown,” Perriello wrote.

“We won, you lost, little Tommy,” Spencer shot back.

“Actually, you lost. In 1865,” Perriello replied. “150 years later, you’re still not over it.”

Meanwhile, Signer spent part of his weekend publicly responding to hate-filled Twitter messages.

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