WINCHESTER — “The difference between us and them” was stressed by Susan Lee, of the Richmond-based Virginia Flaggers, during a speech Tuesday night to a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“The difference between us and them is the blood running through our veins,” Lee said, adding that she and the group’s members have the blood of “honor” in their bodies. “They don’t have it.”
Founded in 2011, The Virginia Flaggers stands “against those who would desecrate our Confederate monuments and memorials and for our Confederate veterans,” according to its Facebook page.
Lee, of Richmond, organizes events for the group across Virginia. Her Tuesday night talk was advertised as open to the public.
She called those who want Confederate monuments removed “godless radicals” and “liberals” and said they “hate us because of our Christian faith. The South was a Christian nation.”
“We will always be about the Confederate soldier,” Lee told an audience of more than several dozen people at the Shenandoah Civil War Museum on the Loudoun Street Mall. “That’s who we’re here for.”
The removal of Confederate monuments and flags across the country accelerated following the racially motivated killing of nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.
“We have been at this for eight years, this fall,” Lee said. “What happened in Charleston had nothing to do with anyone in this room.”
Her speech, which received applause and ovations from the audience, belittled the Black Lives Matter movement and attacked Democratic politicians, Episcopalian churches, the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, the Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative (CARE) and Boston-based author Kevin M. Levin, who wrote a 2016 blog linking The Virginia Flaggers to white supremacist groups.
Lee praised the Southern purpose in the Civil War and applauded President Donald Trump for not being “politically correct.” She said the push to remove Confederate monuments is part of a backlash against him being elected to office.
“I mean, look at this country. Was the South right?” Lee asked. Many in the room responded by shouting “yes.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Birmingham, Ala., does not include The Virginia Flaggers on its list of 37 hate groups active in Virginia. The list does include groups like Identity Dixie and the Nation of Islam.
The Virginia Flaggers is on the center’s Hatewatch that lists groups that lend ideological support to the “Lost Cause” that romanticizes the Confederacy, which it says empowers neo-Confederate and white supremacist hate groups.
William “Bill” Scott, a member of the local chapter of the NAACP, attended Tuesday’s meeting and said he agrees with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s assessment. He said terms such as “state’s rights” and “heritage” support the Lost Cause and the Confederacy’s support of slavery.
“Even though I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, it’s a racist and traitorous symbol,” Scott said of the Confederate flag. “Robert E. Lee himself said it should be folded up... and not waved to inflame old tensions.”
Scott was one of five people affiliated with the NAACP who attended the meeting.
“The idea that the cause of the South was right... she’s implying that slavery was acceptable,” Scott said.
Gwen Borders-Walker, former president of the local NAACP chapter, recently told The Star that the Confederate flag is perceived by African-Americans as a symbol of oppression and hatred. “That flag was present at lynchings.”
Brian Daly, a self-described “history buff,” said he is not a member but regularly attends meetings of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans Turner Ashby Camp.
“How does a lifeless statue impact you?” he said about calls for the removal of Confederate monuments. “If I’m a person who believes that flag is offensive, I just let it go.”
Todd Kern, president of the Turner Ashby Camp, said afterward that the meeting was one of the most successful he’s attended and that Confederate symbols are memorials to soldiers who fought for self-determination.
Kern rejected the “clearly biased” assessment of the Southern Poverty Law Center and called the organization “an extremist group” that engages in “the big lie” that the Civil War was primarily about slavery and that monuments were erected to establish white supremacy in the Jim Crow era.
“Saying you’re proud of your heritage does not take away from anyone else,” Kern said. “We just want to be left alone to have our history meetings.”
Lee urged those at the meeting to take action by unfurling the Confederate flag in public places.
“Are you men or are you not?” she asked the group. “It’s much better to ask forgiveness than ask permission. Just do it.”
She said the removal of Confederate symbols in cities like Dallas and Baltimore is a “temporary” victory for “the godless heathens” who “take down our memorials” and strip the names of Confederate figures from public schools.
At the end of her speech, she displayed a message that read “it may take 100 years... but we will take our land back and when we do the flags will rise, the monuments will be returned and the school names will be restored.”
Kern said he believes that statement means that “eventually people will have tolerance and acceptance for whatever your heritage is.”