By Bill Estep and Beth Musgrave | The Lexington Herald-Leader
White nationalists are planning a rally in Lexington to oppose the planned removal of two Confederate statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County Courthouse and considering a potential lawsuit aimed at blocking the move, a leader in the movement said Tuesday.
Matthew Heimbach, chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party, said his group and others allied under the umbrella of the Nationalist Front are discussing plans for the rally.
Heimbach said people in the Lexington area asked his group get involved in the issue. The group has members in Kentucky and plans to try to recruit more, he said.
No date has been chosen, but the goal is to have the event “sooner rather than later,” Heimbach said.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced his plan to move the statues Saturday, hours after a deadly clash in Charlottesville, Va., between white nationalists and counter-protesters over plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is expected to consider Gray’s proposal Tuesday afternoon to move the statues to an area for war memorials in Veterans Park.
“Everyone needs to understand that we are planning to relocate the statues, not destroy them,” Gray said in a statement Monday. “We want to establish an opportunity to learn our authentic history so history will not repeat itself.”
Gray noted on Sunday that the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, the last secretary of war for the states that seceded from the Union, stand on the same ground that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.
“It’s just not right for us to continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground that men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery,” he said.
The statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge stand on the same ground in Lexington that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.
Heimbach said Gray’s push to move the statues is part of a larger effort in the U.S. and elsewhere to erase white heritage, culture and identity.
“When you’re tearing down the statues, that is a clear attempt to replace and erase us,” he said, referring to white people. “This is an attack on us.”
The effort is motivated by political correctness and a “radical multicultural agenda,” Heimbach said.
Statues of Confederate leaders — Heimbach referred to them as “statues of heroes” — are important symbols because they can inspire, he said.
That’s why some people want them gone, because of the concern they could help light a fire under a new generation of white nationalists, Heimbach said.
That kind of white nationalist ideology is repugnant to many people, but has gained traction under President Donald Trump among white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
White supremacists spoke openly of their support for Trump after he initially failed to single out their groups for condemnation following the deadly clash in Charlottesville. Trump did later specifically condemned the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and other hate groups, saying they “are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Dozens of people were hurt at the rally in clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters, and a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a man who had marched with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car into a crowd of protestors.
Gray said the plan is to move the statues in Lexington from Main Street to a new spot that will include memorials to Union soldiers and those who fought in other wars. That memorial walk is under construction in Veterans Park.
His decision was applauded by hundreds who attended a Monday night vigil in honor of those hurt and killed in the Charlottesville conflict.
“You’ll have people feeling passionate wanting to come in, but you’ll also have professional protesters who want to come in and fight. We’ll be prepared for them also,” Barnard told The New York Times.
Brenna Angel, a spokeswoman for Lexington Police, said Barnard had reached out to several law enforcement agencies, including Louisville, which moved a Confederate monument from the campus of the University of Louisville to a neighboring town last year with little public protest.
The police department has successfully managed many large, public events — including massive and sometimes rowdy celebrations following NCAA men’s basketball tournaments, Angel said.
“That’s not just a credit to our police officers but to the people of Lexington,” she said. “We work closely with groups that organize protests here and have a good relationship with them.”
Outside groups, though, are a concern, she said.
In Lexington, it is legal for groups to gather in public spaces without a permit as long as they do not block traffic. If traffic is blocked, a permit is required, she said.
The police department monitors social media so it can prepare for any potential protest groups, Angel said.
The Traditionalist Worker Party “advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems,” while the National Socialist Movement is “notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric” and racist views, according to the center.
Heimbach, who lives in Indiana, is no stranger to conflict in Kentucky.
He was among about 125 white nationalists who rallied in Pikeville in April. They exchanged shouts and harsh words with about 200 opponents, but a heavy police presence and metal barricades kept the two sides separated.
Last month, Heimbach pleaded guilty to second-degree disorderly conduct in Louisville after he was accused of physically harassing a woman during a March 2016 rally for Donald Trump.