Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term “alt-right,” and is known for encouraging Nazi salutes at a party in November to celebrate the presidential win of Donald Trump, led two protests Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., against the removal of a Confederate statue.
Just after 9 p.m. Saturday several dozen torch-bearing protesters converged on Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Park, which houses the statue of the Confederate general the city council voted to remove, according to The Daily Progress.
They chanted, “You will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and “Blood and soil.”
Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia, Spencer’s alma mater. The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes Spencer as an “academic racist” who backs creation of an Aryan homeland. He currently leads the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist and nationalist think tank.
The Charlottesville police arrived at the scene about 10 minutes into the protest, following an altercation between Spencer’s group and counterprotesters.
In a statement, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said the event 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.”
He told Reuters that officers would be investigating to see whether any laws were broken. As a result of speaking out against white nationalists, Signer, who is Jewish, became the target of anti-Semitic tweets on Sunday.
Spencer tweeted a photo of himself Saturday night holding a burning tiki torch, his face illuminated, with the hashtag “torchlight.”
A protest also took place Saturday afternoon at Charlottesville’s Jackson Park, where protesters decried the pending removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, saying they don’t want a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson to be next.
“We’re not white supremacists,” protester Orry Von Dize told NBC 29. “We are simply just white people that love our heritage, our culture, our European identity”
Spencer said whites “will not be replaced.”
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” he said.
The removal of Lee’s statue has been put on hold amid ongoing litigation. The statues of Lee and Jackson celebrate leaders of the Confederacy, the group of states that encouraged the enslavement of African Americans, which broke with the North in the early 1860s, resulting in the 1861-1865 Civil War.
After Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine Black church members in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015 some Southern states have moved Confederate-era monuments to museums.
The Alt-Right and Trump
Spencer was an outspoken supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign. At a November 19 meeting of The National Policy Institute, attendees praised both Trump and Hitler.
A video by The Atlantic taken inside the conference in Washington, D.C., showed Spencer shouting, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” as some of the people in attendance lifted their hands in a Nazi salute.
During Trump’s inauguration in January, Spencer was actually punched in the face. In an interview, as he was explaining what his Pepe the Frog lapel pin means, a man ran in from offscreen and punched him.
In an interview with the New York Times shortly after Spencer’s gathering to celebrate Trump, the Republican president said that he condemns the alt-right movement, which many say helped fuel his candidacy.
The president-elect distanced himself from the alt-right movement and condemned white nationalists celebrating his election, but those are “just words,” say neo-Nazis and others.
When Stephen Bannon, former head of a website linked to the alt-right, was chosen by Trump as his chief White House strategist, the move was praised by the alt-right base.
But Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council; the cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base ordered by Trump; and the reported tensions between Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, senior adviser and head of the White House Office of American Innovation, have all been met by the disapproval of the alt-right.
There is a theory among the alt-right community that Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, and other Jews in the government are “putting the interests of Israel and world Jewry first,” as stated on neo-Nazi websites, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Spencer said in April, after Auburn University in Alabama cancelled his campus speech citing safety concerns, that his talk would have mainly focused on his newfound opposition to Trump.