July 9 (UPI) — About 50 Ku Klux Klanmarchs protesting the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlotteville, Va., were outnumbered by an estimated 1,000 counterprotesters.
On Saturday the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan protested the city’s decision to take down the statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and rename the eponymous park that houses the statue.
The clansmen, some in Klan robes and carrying flags, gathered around the base of another statue, a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, during the hourlong rally.
In April, Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 to remove the statue of Lee and rename the park Emancipation Park. The council also wants to change the name of a park named for Jackson to Justice Park but has not discussed removing the statue. Charlottesville judge Richard Moore ruled the Lee statue cannot be moved for six months and a court decision is expected sometime in November.
“They’re trying to erase our history, and it’s not right what they’re doing,” Klansman Douglas Barker said to WVIR-TV. “We believe in preserving our country’s heritage. We don’t go into other countries and take down their monuments.”
Those in a counter protest were from Black Lives Matter and the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.
Shouts of “racists go home” drowned out the Klansmen’s chants of “white power.”
A few brief scuffles broke out despite a major police presence, with officers outfitted in riot gear. Police used tear gas when protesters didn’t disperse as directed.
“We had close to 200 officers here from numerous jurisdictions,” Charlottesville Police Maj. Gary Pleasants said to WVIR-TV. “We’ve been working on this plan for four weeks or so since we found out about it.”
Mayor Mike Signer released a statement, saying in part: “Our police faced the great challenge of providing for both the safety of our residents and visitors and the protections of the First Amendment.”
The mayor added: “I believe that we came out of this difficult day stronger than before — more committed to diversity, to racial and social justice, to telling the truth about our history, and to unity.”
On Sunday morning, city officials said 22 people were arrested. The Richmond Times reported most appeared to be anti-Klan protesters.
In New Orleans, four statues were removed this year after two years of court battles.
In St. Louis, workers began disassembling a 40-ton Confederate monument last month.