Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group of demonstrators carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” Saturday in Charlottesville, Virigina protesting plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.
The torch-wielding mob chanted racist slogans like “All White Lives Matter,” and “No More Brother Wars.” The crowd said they were protecting their “white heritage” from the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a statue in the Virginia town’s park.
They also chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend.” Dozens of protesters also brought bamboo tiki torches to a second rally once it became dark out. Chants of “blood and soil” broke out just after 9 p.m. The German-originated expression, popularized in the Nazi era, refers to an ideology of “ethnic purity” based on blood descent and territory.
In attendance was Spencer, the infamous white supremacist, who shared a photo of himself holding a torch.
“I’m here to take part in this great celebration of our heritage and to say ‘no’ to the city of Charlottesville. You’re not going to tear down our statue and you’re not going to replace us,” Spencer told NBC affiliate WVIR.
Spencer — who was famously punched in the face in D.C. on inauguration day — attended the University of Virginia, which is located in Charlottesville, and led both protests. He claimed that the demonstrations were a peaceful display of force. But when a counter protest appeared, scuffles soon broke out in the park and police got involved.
The demonstration, criticized as an intimidation tactic against people of color, received a fair amount of backlash from local community leaders.
“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,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, who opposed removing the statues.