White supremacist protesters in Virginia brandished torches and chanted Nazi phrases Saturday in protest of a city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The torch-wielding gathering in Charlottesville followed an earlier rally at another Charlottesville park billed as a “white heritage” event, according to The Daily Progress.
Just after 9 p.m., the gathering included several dozen protestors chanting “You will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and the Nazi-era phrase “Blood and soil.” The German-originated expression refers to an ideology of ethnic purity popularized in the Nazi era.
In front of the Robert E. Lee statue pic.twitter.com/roWDjOOJGl— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
"Russia is our friend," in Lee Park. pic.twitter.com/uNKMoKRegF— Allison Wrabel (@craftypanda) May 14, 2017
Police dispersed the crowd in about 10 minutes after a fight broke out among protesters.
The Charlottesville City Council voted earlier this year to rename the two parks targeted in the Saturday rallies. Both parks are named after Confederate generals, Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and the renaming decision has drawn the ire of Southern heritage groups and some Virginia politicians.
No right-wing groups immediately took responsibility for planning the event, though Richard Spencer, an outspoken white nationalist known for coining the term “alt-right,” was among the ralliers Saturday, armed with a tiki torch, according to his Twitter feed.
Protesters posted photos from the scene on Twitter using the hashtags #YouWillNotReplaceUs and #SaveJacksonandLee. A judge has placed an injunction on the removal of the Lee statue, but the city is moving forward with plans to rename the two parks.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer likened the rally to those seen in decades past by white supremacist groups like the KKK, calling the event “profoundly ignorant.”
“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. 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,” the mayor said in a statement.