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Charlottesville can remove the Confederate statues at the center of a 2017 White nationalist rally, Virginia court rules

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Two Confederate statues that sparked fiery protests and the fatal White nationalist rally in 2017 may soon come down in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After years of thwarted attempts, Charlottesville can remove statues of Robert E. Lee and General “Stonewall” Jackson, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday. Efforts to remove both statues preceded the Unite the Right Rally in 2017, when thousands of White nationalists descended upon Charlottesville and killed a counterprotester.

Two months after the rally, a circuit court ruled against removing the statues from public spaces, saying that they were protected by a state statute that barred the removal of “memorials and monuments to past wars,” court documents show.

The state’s highest court overturned that decision, ruling that the Lee and Stonewall monuments “were erected long before there was a statute which both authorized a city’s erection of a war memorial or monument and regulated the disturbance of or interference with that war memorial or monument,” according to Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn’s opinion.

Both monuments were erected in the 1920s but the state law protecting monuments was enacted in 1997, and “had no retroactive applicability and did not apply to statues erected by independent cities prior to 1997,” the opinion reads.

Efforts to remove the statue preceded the fatal Charlottesville rally

In February 2017, the Charlottesville City Council moved to redesignate parks named for Lee and Jackson and remove their statues from city grounds, according to court documents. But the decision drew the ire of Virginians with Confederate roots as well as White nationalist groups, who demonstrated in Charlottesville against their removal.

Their protests culminated in the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, when thousands of members of far-right groups, many bearing Confederate and Nazi symbols, descended on the Virginia city and violently clashed with counterprotesters. One White supremacist killed a protester, Heather Heyer, and injured 19 others when he plowed his car into a crowd. Many more were injured in separate incidents during the weekend rally.

States across the US started to reconsider their positions on Confederate monuments during the summer of 2020, after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police sparked nationwide protests against racism.

Cities across Virginia have removed monuments to the Confederacy, and Charlottesville has brought down a statue of a Confederate soldier from the county courthouse that September.

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