RICHMOND — Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” Saturday in Charlottesville, protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument that has played an outsize role in this year’s race for Virginia governor.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at the first of two rallies he led in the college town where he once attended the University of Virginia.
At the second rally, dozens of torch-bearing protesters gathered in a city park in the evening and chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend,” local television footage shows. Spencer was not shown addressing that gathering, but he tweeted a photo of himself standing in the crowd carrying what appeared to be a bamboo tiki torch.
The evening protest was short-lived. About 10 minutes into it, an altercation between Spencer’s group and counter-protesters drew police to the scene, and the crowd quickly dispersed, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported.
Once an obscure Internet figure promoting white identity, Spencer coined the term “alt-right” and rose to prominence during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Although Trump denounced the “alt-right,” Spencer’s followers counted his victory as a win for the movement as Trump espoused hard-right stances on undocumented immigrants, Muslims and political correctness.
“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.”
Spencer was in Charlottesville to protest a City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A court injunction has halted the removal for six months.
The statue has become a rallying cry for a Republican running for Virginia governor this year, Corey Stewart, who was chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign in Virginia and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
There was no indication that Stewart, who has alienated some supporters with his focus on Confederate symbols, attended either rally. In defending the Confederate flag and monuments, Stewart has said that he is not promoting symbols of hate but battling “political correctness” and “historical vandalism.”
He did not respond to a request for comment.
The rallies drew condemnation from three other contenders for governor: Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and two Democrats vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello.
“The ugly display of divisive rhetoric and intimidation tactics in Charlottesville yesterday … does not reflect the thoughtfulness and tolerance I see in my fellow Virginians everywhere I go,” Gillespie tweeted.
State Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), who faces Stewart and Gillespie in the June 13 GOP primary, did not respond to a request for comment.
“There is no place for hate, fear, or intimidation in Virginia,” Northam said in an email. “The display in Charlottesville is the last gasp of a disgusting ideology. In this commonwealth, our doors are open, our lights are on, and we are welcome to everyone who shares a love for it, no matter who you are or where you’re from.”
Perriello, who grew up in Charlottesville, tweeted derisively at Spencer as the alt-right leader announced plans to protest there.
“Get your white supremacist hate out of my hometown,” Perriello wrote on Twitter.
Spencer replied: “We won, you lost, little Tommy.”
“Actually, you lost,” Perriello shot back. “In 1865. 150 years later, you’re still not over it.”