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UVA Prof on UVA’s Historical Ties to KKK & White Nationalist Alums Richard Spencer & Jason Kessler

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Jalane Schmidt, an organizer with the local Black Lives Matter movement and an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, describes the school’s history of connections to the KKK and its alumnus, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jalane Schmidt, didn’t the president of University of Virginia, fearful of violence, tell people not to go out to meet the white supremacists? Can you talk about the organizing and the—just what took place this weekend? And on Sunday, you passed the white supremacist Richard Spencer? I mean, there were a number of people there. David Duke was there, celebrating President Trump, in fact.

JALANE SCHMIDT: Yes. Well, with regard to the statement put out by University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, it was a very tepid statement. And, yes, again, as she did with the letter before the Ku Klux Klan rally on July the 8th, again encouraging university affiliates to avoid protesting this rally. And what was unacceptable about that, an a moral level, is that the University of Virginia has its own ties to the Ku Klux Klan from the 1920s. There was a chapter there of the Klan at the university. The Virginia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan pledged $1,000 to the University of Virginia for their centennial fund in 1929. This went unmentioned in President Sullivan’s letter. Also, the two main organizers of the rally on Saturday, the so-called Unite the Right rally, are graduates of the University of Virginia. Both Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler are UVA alums. And that also was unacknowledged in the president’s letter. So she was advising UVA affiliates to avoid protesting the very white supremacy that the university has historically been involved in, not just with collusion, but with actually producing systems of white supremacy. That was unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: And you passed Richard Spencer on Sunday?

JALANE SCHMIDT: I was walking down the downtown mall. I was trying to get away from the site of his 2:00 p.m.—actually, it was Jason Kessler, a local activist. I was trying to get away from the site of his planned 2:00 p.m. press conference, so I was walking in the opposite direction at the opposite end of the downtown mall, just an outside pedestrian mall. I saw the police in—with riot shields, lining up two deep, just, you know, going in into formation, a large number of them. And I thought, “Oh, no, this isn’t good.” And then, sure enough, I see he who shall not be named approaching toward me, so I ducked into a comic book store. I told the proprietor, the workers there what was going on, and they spirited me out the back door and into an alleyway, where I waited until things calmed down for—it was about a half-hour. This was the second time in three days that I have had to leave, you know, a building through either a side entrance or a back entrance and be spirited away by my security guard. I’ve had 24-hour security on me, and I’ve not been staying at my own home. I’ve been staying at a safe house. And, you know, this was the second time that my security guard has had to, you know, kind of escort me out of a situation.

You know, as Dr. West was mentioning, and Reverend Blackmon, I was also in the—in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Friday night at the mass prayer service, when we were—became trapped inside by the large gathering of the torch-bearing Nazis that was taking place just across the street from the church. We were trapped in there. I tweeted from inside the church. It was retweeted many times. You know, I said, “We’re trapped in here.” And then, my security detail, you know, just kind of whisked me out a side door. We went down an alleyway and then hopped into his car and took back streets out of there. So, this has been a very tense few days going on here. It started already on Thursday. I got white supremacist flyers stuck under my windshield wiper. And then, Friday morning, already there were helicopters circling overhead, all day, you know, already starting in the morning. Yeah, so it’s been awful.

AMY GOODMAN: And one of those helicopters went down—that’s right—killing two of the officers who were inside the helicopter. We’re going to break again, but when we come back, this particular rally and Nazi torch march through the University of Virginia in response to the statue of Robert E. Lee being taken down. The park’s renamed now Emancipation Park, was Lee Park, and Jackson Park is now Justice Park. You, Jalane—Emancipation Park. You, Jalane Schmidt, have been very involved with this Confederate monument removal movement, and I want to ask you about that, as well. We’re talking about terror in Charlottesville this weekend. Latest count, three dead, one anti-white nationalist marcher, pro-peace and justice protester, was killed when a white nationalist crashed his car into the crowd. Two police officers in a helicopter also went down on Saturday. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Solitary Daughter” by Bedouine. And for radio listeners, we were just showing pictures of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed in the car attack, the terror attack on Saturday in Charlottesville, as counterdemonstrators challenged the white supremacist march that was there, this latest response this weekend to Robert E. Lee’s statue being taken down. There are some who are saying Robert E. Lee’s statue should be replaced by Heather Heyer, a statue of Heather Heyer. Jalane Schmidt is with us, organizer with local Black Lives Matter, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. This whole Confederate statue removal movement, you’ve been involved with this. Can you talk about it and what it meant—what it means for Charlottesville?

JALANE SCHMIDT: Sure. So, about a year and a half ago, a young African-American high school student started a petition to have the Confederate monuments removed. This garnered several hundred or a number of signatures. A city councilmember took up the charge, and then the City Council set up a blue ribbon commission to consider the Confederate monuments. And so, there was a series of public hearings over a period of about six months, ending or concluding in December. And over the period of six months—as it started out, few people even were aware of it or were keeping track of what was going on, few residents of Charlottesville. And the folks who attended tended to be older white folks who favored keeping the monuments. As more and more people found out, in part through the efforts of activists—we started inviting our friends and neighbors, informing them about what was going on. And so, as more people found out was going on, more people started attending, until, by the end of the process, six months later, opinion had switched, at least among the attendees, basically 180 degrees. And there was large attendance of folks who were in favor of removing the monuments.

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