This article has been edited to correct the timeline of events since its publishing. The Commonwealth Club, on September 15, contacted RVA Magazine to report they had canceled hosting the Andy Ngo event due to a conflict of interest with the values of the club and then asked for the article to be taken down.
Richmond, Virginia is in a period of reckoning with its past. The foundational practices and behaviors of the United States began here as wars, fires, and riots shaped and reshaped the city landscape and in turn the national policies that followed. One contemporary point of contention has been the decommissioning of confederate symbolism. Since the 2015 mass shooting at AME Church in Charleston, SC, Richmond administrators have been challenged to remove flags, statues, and names associated with the confederacy and its legacy. The Monument Avenue Commission held its first meeting in 2017 to generate public comment on what to do with the statues. It was a rowdy crowd of polarizing opinions and failed attempts to find a recontextualized middle ground. Tensions resurfaced during the George Floyd Protests; it took the 2020 uprising to begin this process in earnest as residents tore down statues erected in dedication to colonial history and the civil war. The actions of protestors over the course of a few months made plain the failure of the commission to remove a single statue in three years. This moment asked city inhabitants to make a choice between continuing to uphold revisionist civil war history or re-imaging Richmond as a place of struggle for freedom and diversity. City administrators’ decision to remove the remaining confederate statues and the rebranding of schools and street signs elicits progression for the latter. There have been a few detractors who wish for Richmond to remain a city enveloped in a revisionist idea of the antebellum South. Some went as far as suing the State of Virginia for taking down statues as unconstitutional with at least two of the plaintiffs being direct descendents of those who helped construct Monument Ave.
In the wake of these decisions the Virginia Council emerged, a nonprofit, “to preserve Virginia’s history and craft the most prosperous future for all of its citizens”. A claim that appears disingenuous when you see what history and which citizens they want to promote. This past February the Virginia Council, funded by the Common Sense Society, hosted far-right British personality Douglas Murray at the Jefferson Hotel. Murray is known for his vitriolic views on immigration, Islam, feminism, and identity politics. The discussion at the Jefferson centered on “uncancelling history” which non-ironically seeks to cancel education projects he perceives as attacking the founding fathers. He describes programs like the 1619 project as propaganda, “An attempt to turn the story of America into a story of original sin, slavery and much more.” He goes on to support a straw man argument that critiquing the founding fathers is equated with hatred of America itself. Murray’s claim of history being “turned on its head” negates how the fictionalized stories of America created a mythologized view of the country’s history and reflects what in history they want to remain as status quo. He ignores the real grotesque violence that founded this country by misplacing a desire for historical accuracy as a threat to America’s stability. He essentializes the history of the founders as inherently a net positive despite the effects of slavery and exploitation factored into its creation. Even further, he ignores the abolitionist history that existed in parallel to the dominant white land owning elites, and silences those who fought, and still fight, for the freedom of all American residents.
This Friday the Virginia Council will hold another event for a far-right personality whose criticism of statue removal, under the guise of free speech, is known to influence white nationalist violence. Andy Ngo would become the darling of Tucker Carlson and Neo-nazi accelerationist groups with his reporting of the 2020 protest in the city of Portland, OR. His attempts to livestream and expose identities of protesters would eventually lead to a physical altercation leaving him with a black eye and covered in milkshake. He exploited this moment to gain media attention through a fictitious narrative of protesters as a nationally coordinated organization. His promotion of hit lists against protestors and his conspiracies that mass shooters who espouse white nationalist views are instead leftists undercover encouraged the neo-nazi group Attomwafen, linked to 5 murders in the U.S., to attack alleged anti fascist protesters. This meme’d into existence the phrase “Andy Ngo is a threat to our communities and provides kill lists to Atomwaffen.” Andy’s brief rise in the media quickly fell after undercover footage showed him collaborating with Proud Boys. He requested they act as his security during protests in exchange for positive coverage of their “Patriot Prayer” rallies. What makes Andy a dangerous grifter is his promotion of far-right ideology under the guise of being an independent journalist. This misrepresentation of himself and Black Lives Matter protests has put him in the spotlight of right wing media while threatening people’s lives. We should then ask ourselves: why is the Virginia Council sponsoring right wing terror enthusiasts? At first Andy was scheduled to speak at the Commonwealth Club but according to an email from the clubs events director he was disinvited due to a conflict with the clubs values. The Virginia Council sent out an email last night of a new speaking location at the Westin Hotel off Broad St. but calls to the front desk have claimed the event there is also cancelled.
Richmond’s modern geography has been shaped by reactionary forces who have wanted to preserve a mythology of the Confederate South. The latest iteration comes from the Virginia Council’s promotion of historical preservation, but what underlies “preserving tradition” is an all too familiar dynamic of racist revisionism. The Virginia Council formed in 2021 in response to statue removal that they perceived as a threat to Richmond’s historic legacy. Founded by John Reid, a radio personality on WRVA, the board consists of a former Dominion Energy executive, the former head of a Christian school, executives of Common Sense Society, and former members of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The primary funding for Virginia Council comes from the Common Sense Society whose leadership board is stacked with former members of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the Heritage Foundation. CSS chairman Thomas Peterffy is a billionaire that has given over $2 million to Glenn Youngkin’s PAC for upcoming November Virginia elections. The chairman emeritus of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is Edwin J. Feulner who is also the founder and president of the Heritage Foundation, known as a pass-through organization for the Koch brothers dark money.
John Reid’s claim of promoting free speech hides his real intentions of promoting revisionist history. The sponsors for this event include the Virginia Tea Party, the Middle Resolution (a conservative organization that supports “free market” candidates), and a United Daughters of the Confederacy member who defended the KKK. John sees the Confederacy as a “native history” that Richmond families want to support. We should then ask what about the history of Richmond families who didn’t support the Confederacy or those subjugated by it? Common Sense Society alleged support for historical accuracy shrouds the white nationalist values that underlie the organization. Andy is another prop for them to elicit a false narrative of anti-white violence that in actuality is a defense of Confederate racism. Richmond does want an accurate history to be told, one that highlights the fight for liberation and freedom for all residents. Revisionist history is what built the statues and it was truth that torn them down. Its now time that we continue this legacy of abolition.