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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lee Circle march faces white supremacist groups as New Orleans prepares to take down Confederate-era statues

Posted By on Sun, May 7, 2017 at 11:00 PM

click to enlarge At Lee Circle May 7, white supremacist groups and monument supporters were separated from a massive group calling for the removal of Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • At Lee Circle May 7, white supremacist groups and monument supporters were separated from a massive group calling for the removal of Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans

The horns of the New Creations Brass Band powered a massive march to celebrate the removal of four Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans. Winding through the French Quarter from Congo Square to the steps of Lee Circle, hundreds of people joined the "second line" led by longtime civil rights advocates who have fought for years against white supremacist statues in New Orleans.

Last month, the city removed the first of four monuments scheduled for removal from the city's landscape following two years of debate, legal challenges and court rulings that ultimately gave the city approval to take them down.

The May 7 march was met by a few dozen white supremacists and monument supporters who gathered at the foot of the Robert E. Lee monument to wave Confederate flags and flags bearing the symbol of white nationalist group League of the South. Some wore baseball helmets, face masks, shin guards and armored vests — the uniform of an emerging paramilitary arm of the emboldened "alt-right" — and came armed with flagpoles, shields, pepper spray and guns.

With some traveling as far as California, the mostly out-of-town crowd of monument supporters came prepared to do battle with "antifa" and deliver a bloody response in the wake of April's clashes in Berkeley, California, while narratives on right-wing websites hyped a new "Battle of New Orleans."

Instead they were met by members and supporters of Take 'Em Down NOLA and other civil rights and workers groups — many of the same people who have marched repeatedly against the monuments, police violence, and Donald Trump's administration and policies, among other issues — all dancing alongside a brass band and a DJ blasting music from a truck.
click to enlarge Hundreds of people joined a massive "second line" march from Congo Square, through the French Quarter and at Lee Circle. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • KAT STROMQUIST
  • Hundreds of people joined a massive "second line" march from Congo Square, through the French Quarter and at Lee Circle.

Gathering in Congo Square under clear skies around 2 p.m., Take 'Em Down NOLA's Malcolm Suber announced, "This is a day of celebration." Suber said Avery Alexander, Dorothy Mae Taylor and other civil rights leaders who have led efforts to remove statues honoring the Confederacy are “looking down on us and smiling today.”

"We’re finally getting some white supremacy monuments down," he said. "We’ll keep fighting until they’re all down."

The group's Angela Kinlaw said "regardless of what other people are saying … we are focused with a laser-like lens on our commitment," including removing “all symbols to white supremacy” while promoting and advocating for racial and economic justice.

Michael "Quess" More reminded the crowd to remain focused on the group's message and avoid turning the celebration physical. "If you do something like that, that’s on you," he said. The march stretched for several blocks as it left Armstrong Park and traveled down Rampart Street, then turned into the French Quarter, passing bars and shops as tourists stopped to take pictures and stream the parade on social media. Several hotel and restaurant workers stepped outside to watch and dance. Kinlaw encouraged people to join, calling the second line a "celebration in the light of day."

"They didn't put up the monuments in the dark, why take them down in the dark?" she said. "Let's celebrate."

The march traveled up Decatur Street and passed Jackson Square — the statue of Andrew Jackson also is among monuments targeted for removal by the group, citing the seventh president's role in Native American genocide and Battle of Fort Negro. The crowd chanted "we won't get no satisfaction 'til they take down Andrew Jackson." The group also stopped at the statue of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, also on the group's list of statues and symbols up for removal.
click to enlarge White supremacist groups wave Confederate and white nationalist flags at Lee Circle. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • KAT STROMQUIST
  • White supremacist groups wave Confederate and white nationalist flags at Lee Circle.

The clash between both groups at Lee Circle was among New Orleans' first large-scale brushes with internet-galvanized white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers and far-right nationalists and alt-right trolls. Among them were members or supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and Stormfront, among other white supremacist hate groups, with their emblems on patches, pins and T-shirts, some bearing Nazi SS imagery and white nationalist icon Pepe the frog.

They livestreamed their interactions on social media while egging on anti-monument demonstrators, defending "white pride" and accusing protesters of enabling "white genocide," among other far-right conspiracies perpetuated by internet echo chambers and exploited by nationalist social media personalities.

New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers separated the groups with a series of barricades on either side of the large steps leading up to the monument, keeping the sides largely contained except for several shouting matches among both camps — one man carrying a League of the South flag repeatedly shouted the N-word at a group of protesters and called one woman a "whore."

NOPD arrested three people (all monument supporters) before the Take 'Em Down crowd reached Lee Circle and charged them with disturbing the peace.

In a statement announcing the "[successful conclusion] of security action around Lee Circle protests," NOPD said it "safety [protected] more than 700 demonstrators."

The march followed last week's ongoing vigil held by Confederate flag-waving supporters at Jefferson Davis' statue in Mid-City, which NOPD has surrounded with layers of fencing and barricades as the city prepares to take it down.
click to enlarge Monument opponents stood behind a supporter who gave the finger to other opponents at Lee Circle. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Monument opponents stood behind a supporter who gave the finger to other opponents at Lee Circle.

click to enlarge Monument supporters at Lee Circle included Ku Klux Klan sympathizers. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Monument supporters at Lee Circle included Ku Klux Klan sympathizers.

click to enlarge A monument supporter waving a Donald Trump flag. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • A monument supporter waving a Donald Trump flag.

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