The M1 Abrams tank that Tara Brandau told supporters she’d roll onto Monument Avenue with didn’t quite materialize. Instead, it was a flag screen printed with an image of Donald Trump edited to give the appearance he is standing on a tank.
The image, a meme made popular by self-styled ‘alt-right’ trolls associated with modern Nazi and white supremacy movements, was part of the iconography on display by the neo-Confederates, including crude cardboard signs reading “All Lives Matter” and “Antifa are the real neo-nazis.”
The promise of a tank drew criticism from the local activist known as Goad Gatsby, who organized the “Yell At The Lee Statue While Drinking Out Of A Container In A Brown Bag” event in October. “Did y’all bring a tank or did you just get tanked first?” he said, poking fun at the three organizers as they marched around the perimeter of the Lee Statue.
As four neo-Confederates marched, local women who were handing out white roses in festive Christmas garb sang carols from the cartoon, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in the background.
“They’re the Grinch,” one of the singers said after, “They were going to come here during the Christmas parade originally and ruin it.”
Several members of the Dixie Defenders joined the husband-and-wife organizers, Thomas and Judy Crompton, who come to Virginia from out-of-state to rally around the Lee Statue. The Defenders are a relatively local group, with ties to Florida and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization that was founded in Richmond. Thomas Crompton was a member of a chapter in Tennessee until the group ejected him, something he complained about in a recent Facebook post, over the September rally he organized.
Gene Stilp, an activist from Pennsylvania known for burning the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, came at the invitation of the white rose demonstrators. Richmond law made a public burning illegal, so he instead took his flag, which has the Nazi flag on the other side, and cut it into pieces before discarding it in a scorched trash can. (Video)
Although the Richmond Police did not have the same presence they had at the last event, Chief Durham was in attendance with top brass, a few officers in SWAT gear, and State and Virginia Capitol Police. He posed for a quick photo with the local protesters who organized the white roses action, which they’d planned in order to evoke the peaceful resistance movement students organized in Nazi Germany.
Other protesters wore Santa beards and hats while chanting “You have a shitty hobby” at the Confederate group, which grew in numbers to some 10 camo-clad activists by 11 AM. While the organizers were from out of state, a few Virginians showed up.
“The media is going to say no one from Richmond supports us,” said Judy Crompton as I approached her, claiming that Richmond residents had joined them this time. When asked, no one present was actually from Richmond. Five attendees had come from Virginia to join four out-of-state visitors, but Thomas Crompton claimed that Richmond residents were on their way.
“No head counts,” was his official response when asked how many Richmonders were coming. A flurry of posts online by the organizers seeking head counts also turned up few replies, suggesting the group was unable to get an accurate count before the event.
Protesters, who outnumbered the neo-Confederates, carried signs supporting inclusivity and religious freedom and spoke to the neo-Confederates on several occasions to offer them white roses. They used their superior numbers to visually block the neo-Confederates on a few occasions by standing in front of them, but the event remained peaceful, despite grumbling and occasional taunting from both groups. Despite videos posted by CSA II alleging danger from Antifa and Black Lives Matter, Brandau was even seen wearing a white rose she’d been given by a protester.
Monument rallies and protests seem to have become a new Richmond tradition, but nearby, neighbors celebrated a very different tradition at the annual Fan District Association Holiday House Tour. Reached by phone, Tour Chair Heather McQuillan didn’t think the rally had any impact on the tours. “We’re celebrating the 55th year of our tour and it’s going great,” she said, encouraging residents to come out and see a different take of celebrating neighborhood history.
All photos David Streever