The Guardian

Why is the US still fighting the civil war?

Confederate symbols have become a crucible of racial tension in the US. White nationalists claim they are important monuments – but are they just a way to rewrite an ugly history and revive the battles of the past?
White supremacist groups and counter-demonstrators clash at Charlottesville, Virginia. Photograph: Michael N/Pacific/BarcroftImages

In St Paul’s memorial church in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Friday, just up the street from where white supremacists were gathering for a torchlight rally, Cornel West explained why African Americans saw the removal of Confederate monuments as so important.

On hearing that hundreds of white supremacists were gathered in a nearby park, the civil rights leader said, with a hint of weariness: “These are chickens coming home to roost. We should have eliminated these statues a long time ago.

“The idea that the American family has to embrace figures like [Confederate general] Robert E Lee, or Stonewall Jackson, who were fundamentally committed to enslaving black people in perpetuity … These people are not heroes.”

But figures such as Lee and Jackson are heroes to some. Their admirers include Donald Trump. In a rowdy press conference on Tuesday, he compared them to celebrated figures in American history such as presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Their admirers also include the white nationalist movement, which is currently surging in the US. The footsoldiers of that movement terrorised Charlottesville last weekend. Trump downplayed their violent excesses, saying they were merely “there to protest the taking down the statue of Robert E Lee”.

The day after the torchlight parade, a rally featuring hundreds of mostly young men in various states of paramilitary attire shut the city down. Hours later, one of their a counter-protester with his car. The next day, a planned memorial to the young woman who had been killed was shut down after “credible threats” from white nationalists.

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