- On Contemporary Contours of Public Memory
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The course of 2017 represented a watershed moment of challenges to, and defenses of, Confederate monuments in the United States, particularly in the South. The spring began with the removal of the Robert E. Lee (Confederate general) statue in New Orleans's Lee Circle and continued with the excision of other statues in the Crescent City, including that of the Confederacy's first president, Jefferson Davis. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu wrote of the city's decision that the Lee monument "was not put up to represent, to revere, Robert E Lee, it was put there to represent the cause that he fought for, which in our opinion, was not what New Orleans has ever represented."1 In what became a flag event for neo-Confederates, the New Orleans milieu drew into the public spotlight a number of so-called alt-right groups, Lost Cause adherents, and white supremacist groups poised to defend the honor of Confederate memory. These groups arrived in April 2017 to protest Lee's removal, but after a week-long rally, the city's monuments were ultimately taken down and remanded to storehouses or slated for display in museums or, in the least, removed from publicly shared land in some fashion. New Orleans's successful effort in this regard mobilized scores of cities across the nation to take similar steps to eradicate their respective brick-and-mortar homages to the Confederacy.
One such city was Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of the most violent clash between such white nationalist groups as the League of the South, Vanguard America, the National Socialist Party, Oath Keepers, the Minutemen Militia, and the Ku Klux Klan and counterprotesters including members of Black Lives Matter, Refuse Fascism, Redneck Revolt, the Workers World Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and other antiracist organizations.2 When Charlottesville leaders announced earlier in the year that they had voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from the city's Emancipation Park, white nationalist groups led by supremacist leaders Jason Kessler of the Daily Caller and Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute organized the virally popular Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017. The evening before the protest witnessed heated confrontations between the nationalists who had gathered on the University of Virginia's campus for a prerally event and antiracist activists who had begun assembling in the city for the next day's protest. The white nationalists offered little quarter to their counterparts. According to the Cavalier Daily, the clash included "several of the 'alt-right' protesters hurl[ing] antisemitic, [End Page 130] homophobic and misogynistic slurs at several reporters and community members asking them questions. One man asking questions was thrown to the ground and surrounded by marchers after a brief physical altercation."3 Even more counterprotesters were beaten. The skirmish was a sheer harbinger of what would come the next day.
Kessler and Spencer had assured Charlottesville authorities that the event would unfold without violence. However, the featured white nationalist march on the morning of August 12 opened immediately with physical bellicosity and social violence in the form of beatings and racial, antiSemitic, and homophobic epithets emanating from the marching swarm. Part of the difficulty for law enforcement was that Virginia is an open-carry firearm state, and many of the nationalists wielded guns, one going so far as to fire at the feet of African American...