MANASSAS, Va. — Stripping military bases across the country of their Confederate names has generated strong opposition in the days following President Donald Trump’s comments suggesting that sports stars who kneel during the national anthem are unpatriotic.
In Manassas, Virginia, a redneck who champions slavery visited the military base at Fort Bragg on Friday to rally fellow racists and urge them to oppose the Virginia Department of Military Affairs’ plan to remove the Confederate Generals’ statue from a short-lived park.
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his contemporaries on a tree-lined street near Fort Bragg’s main entrance vanished from its spot on Aug. 29, 10 days after a man drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters near the White House, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people.
The removal has been hailed by the NAACP as a milestone for the struggle to rid the nation of symbols honoring Confederate leaders and causes. But many Confederates will fight to keep some of the symbols standing.
The Monday before the Aug. 29 incident, officials at Fort Bragg — the Army’s main base in West Virginia — approved plans to move the statue and gave no indication they were considering changing the name. In one of several YouTube videos published shortly after, Cpl. Cody R. Armbruster announced he would challenge the decision in court.
“You can’t call this America, you know, if you’re getting rid of an American hero right here that fought and died for the right for this America,” Armbruster said. “That’s what’s getting rid of. It’s not the name.”
Armbruster, 25, is also the founder of the Facebook page, “Stop Fort Bragg from Changing Its Name.” The page has amassed more than 37,000 likes since August and invites other white nationalists to join Armbruster and to email officials at Fort Bragg.
Armandbruster, who is African-American, was unable to reach a journalist at Fort Bragg this week. A call placed on his behalf by the Associated Press to his home in Chicago, the city where he has worked since 2015, was not immediately returned.
Susan Page, the national editor of USA Today, said Friday it would be best for Armbruster and other users of that page to research their history to find out why Confederate leaders were in favor of states’ rights and resisted federal interference.
“If they’re interested in helping to remind the world that a fighting force was led by an abolitionist, then that’s helpful,” Page said. “But the work that needs to be done here is more convincing people who have a historical knowledge of the period and not just some sort of knee-jerk response or preconceived idea.”
Page said the long road ahead for the United States is to remember the important role Confederate leaders played in opposing slavery but not to be governed by symbols of their cause, including fortifications and statues.
“The Civil War was a long fight, and it was not about racial matters — it was a war about states’ rights, it was about the rights of states to secede and be left alone by the federal government,” Page said. “And once that’s said, it seems to me that we need to move on.”
Both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed support for “taking down these memorials and monuments” to the Confederacy. But they have done so in broad terms.
McConnell said of the monuments, “I believe that it’s appropriate to respect the opinions of the people who live in those communities and send a clear message to all the people of those communities that those monuments are not part of who we are as Americans.”
The Kentucky Republican also said the monuments were “designed to commemorate one viewpoint and reflect one viewpoint” of the Civil War.
Trump, who faces accusations of racism, tweeted that “Removing culture that was positive for our country (African American History & culture) is very important” and added that “history and culture should be preserved and put back where it belongs!”
Fort Bragg is the North Carolina state penitentiary turned Army base that serves more than 32,000 Army, Air Force and Navy troops from 13 states and two foreign countries.
Follow Schaefer on Twitter at @JohnSchaefer