Why Did Preservationists Join With Neo-Confederates Over NOLA Monuments?

Given how vocal the Sons of Confederate Veterans have been about the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, it’s not surprising a local chapter based in New Orleans decided to sue the city over a recently passed ordinance to remove four statues. But they’re being joined in the suit by a number of preservationist groups — some of them decades old — that appear to take a more conventional approach to historical preservation.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose Louisiana Facebook page compared the monument opponents to Islamic State terrorists, is identified as a neo-Confederate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Based in Columbia, Tennessee, it reportedly has a membership of more than 29,000, limited to “male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.”

The Louisiana division has been vocal in resisting Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to remove the four monuments: statues honoring statues honoring Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, CSA President Jefferson Davis as well as an obelisk memorializing the Battle of Liberty Place, a revolt by a white supremacist army against the biracial reconstruction government after the Civil War.

“We have been working on it since Mayor Landrieu decided to be stupid,” Thomas Taylor, Louisiana division commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, told TPM. “He’s a very egotistical guy and he wasn’t going to let this go — even when the population is against it except for a few big mouths.”

The Louisiana SCV’s Facebook page regularly calls Landrieu a “Marxist.” It features memes comparing Landrieu’s supporters to Islamic State and coined the slogan “Gray lives matter,” a play on the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The Beauregard Camp No. 130, the local affiliate listed in the complaint, has also used Facebook to rile up opposition to removing the monuments. Just this weekend, it warned on its Facebook page that “there is already a vocal MINORITY of regional citizens who want ALL monuments to anyone that is not black to come crashing down.”

“Are we going to live to witness Nazi-style book burnings and Concentration Camps (FEMA CAMPS that already exist finally start opening!) and ‘Protective Custody’ for ‘enemies of the party and the state’ following for those who oppose ‘the Progressive collective party and state’?” the post said.

The leaders of Beauregard Camp No. 130 — which describes itself as “an autonomous, local chapter” in the legal complaint — did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment. Taylor reiterated that the state chapter is not listed as a challenger on the suit, but he said that he is “in the background” since one of his camps is bringing the suit.

“You’ve got people not from the South, who don’t care anything about it, who are ill-informed changing the rules, changing the way we live here,” Taylor said.

He described attending one of the hearings on removing the monuments.

“It was total chaos, you had a handful of loudmouths who wouldn’t allow anyone who wasn’t white speak undisturbed unless they spoke for their side,” Taylor said, adding that the monument opponents were “just incredibly rude, and like animals almost.”

“Unless you were sitting in that chamber it would be hard to imagine how awful those people are. And ignorant. Not just awful. Ignorant,” he said.

Keeping the statues in place had also attracted the attention of former KKK leader David Duke, who said, “We have a right to preserve our heritage and our values the same way that African-American people have a right to honor those they consider to be their leaders and their heroes.”

The other groups in the suit are the Monumental Task Committee, Louisiana Landmarks Society and the Foundation for Historical Louisiana. They also declined the opportunity to comment on the decision to join forces with the SCV. Representatives from two of groups — the Louisiana Landmarks Society and the Foundation for Historical Louisiana — as well as Franklin H. Jones III, the lead lawyer in their case, said that they would not be talking to media.

The Monumental Task Committee — which was formed in 1989 to preserve New Orleans monuments– has taken an active role in opposing Landrieu’s proposal though, hosting press conferences and forums on preserving the monuments. Earlier this month the group presented 30,000 petition-signatures objecting the removal and its president Pierre McGraw said the city had ignored the compromise alternatives the group offered such as adding a plaque to give fuller context to the history behind the monuments or erecting new monuments to honor civil rights heroes.

James Logan, vice president of the Louisiana Landmarks Society (and also a lawyer in the suit) has also been present at events supporting preserving the monuments and was quoted in a local report calling the obelisk “a relic of New Orleans rich built environment.”

His group was established in 1950, according to its website, and it “promotes historic preservation through education, advocacy, and operation of the Pitot House,” a colonial country home in New Orleans.

The Louisiana Landmarks Society and the Foundation for Historical Louisiana — founded in 1963 — typically make local news reports for more run-of-the-mill preservation efforts: opposing skyscraper hotels in historical districts, identifying vulnerable historical sites, and hosting educational and charity events.

According to NOLA.com, the preservationists involved in resisting removing the monuments have said they have no special tie to Confederate nostalgia per se, but rather just are devoted to saving all of the monuments in the city.

But that argument wasn’t enough for Westley Bayas III, a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project who has been involved in the protests of the monuments.

“This idea of, ‘You’re just involved in the preservation’ but yet your preservation stance is, ‘They have to remain at the top of these pedestals,’ it doesn’t sound like a quote-unquote ‘compromise,’ Bayas said, arguing that the statues could be placed in a nearby Confederate history museum.

“It sounds like you’re trying to hold up the status quo,” he said.

TPM illustration by Christine Frapech. Images via AP.

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