CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia—The city can’t pull down its Confederate statues, so it covered them up instead.
Workers draped heavy, black tarps over statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson a week after a white supremacist rally, supposedly to defend the Lee memorial, devolved into violence and killed protester Heather Heyer.
Virginia state law prohibits the removal of monuments to veterans, so the city council voted to temporarily cover them until legal means of removing them could be found. The decision came at the end of a Monday night city council meeting in which hundreds of angry residents called for Mayor Mike Signer to resign. They were furious he allowed the August 12 rally of white supremacists to take place, and they faulted him for police’s failure to protect peaceful protesters from assaults. It got so heated that Signer ran out of the room.
Even the compromise couldn’t escape controversy, when a man with a knife and a pistol started cutting at the Lee tarp barely more than an hour after it went up.
John Miska, a retired veteran from nearby Madison County, wore a tie-dye t-shirt and carried a pistol strapped to his right leg as he tried to cut off the tarp. Police immediately arrived and tried stopped him. Miska argued with one of them, insisting that the law provided for him to remove the tarp. He finally agreed to stop and proceeded to explain why he did it.
“If you are American there is no room for race in this country but for American. Now this was an American," Miska said, gesturing towards Lee. "He fought for the wrong side, he fought for the wrong ideals. We need him to be here so we can point at him and say he fought for the side that lost. He repented."
Earlier in nearby Emancipation Park, the main site of the deadly August 12 rally and an July KKK rally, another small crowd had gathered to stare at the statue of Lee being covered up. In front of the statue, a hand-lettered sign reading "Heather Heyer Memorial Park" lay on the ground. A pickup truck slowed as it passed the park and a white male rolled down his window to shout expletives.
"We're mourning those who have lost their lives," said Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, "and we're looking to celebrate those who have been freedom fighters for generations."
After August 12, other cities and universities around the U.S. began removing Confederate statues, including the Baltimore and Duke University.
"This is a national movement,” Bellamy said. “ You've seen this take place across the country."
Miska expressed disgust for both sides in the debate over the statues, in particular at Jason Kessler, the local white supremacist who organized the “Unite the Right Rally” on August 12.
"You know how to spell Kessler?" Miska asked the crowing crowd. "I spell it a-s-s-h-o-l-e. Anybody know how to spell Wes Bellamy's name? You can spell it the same way. Both of them were wrong."