Torch-wielding protesters, including a prominent white nationalist, rallied around a statue of Confederacy leader Robert E. Lee slated for removal and chanted racist slogans in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday night.
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who popularized the term “alt-right,” led two events in the town he once attended school at the University of Virginia to defend the statue. The first rally took place as a march through Charlottesville, and after dark protesters gathered in Lee Park carrying what appear to be tiki torches. Spencer tweeted a photo of himself holding such a torch.
“You will not replace us. You will not destroy us,” Spencer said at the earlier rally, which he broadcast via Periscope video. “You cannot destroy us. We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away.”
According to NBC News, crowds chanted slogans such as “You will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and the Nazi-era phrase “Blood and soil.”
“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 WVIR.
According to The Washington Post, the nighttime rally dissolved quickly after Charlottesville police arrived at the scene about 10 minutes into the event following an altercation between protesters.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, who opposed removing the statues, condemned the rally in a statement on Sunday.
“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 Signer. “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.”
Other critics took to social media to slam Spencer and the protesters.
Charlottesville’s City Council voted to sell the Lee statue in April, but its removal was halted for six months by a judge’s order, The Washington Post reports. The statue has become a rallying cry for Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for governor of the state who promised not to remove any Confederate memorials if elected.