With Confederate monuments decision imminent, protests could intensify | NOLA.com
An imminent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on the fate of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans could intensify demonstrations and racial tensions on the heels of the election of President-elect Donald Trump.
It’s been more than six weeks since the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case involving three Confederate monuments in New Orleans, including the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle. And it’s been 11 months since the City Council voted to remove the monuments, calling them “nuisances” and painful reminders of the city’s slave-holding and segregated past.
Now, just a week after Trump was elected president amid a fiery debate that had white nationalist overtones, protests over the election have already included the defacement of Confederate monuments in New Orleans and in Richmond, Va., according to the Washington Post.
Both the City Council vote and the debate surrounding the monuments have spurred protests on both sides of the issue, though the demonstrations supporters of removal staged have been larger. But in the wake of the election, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley thinks New Orleans residents should brace for larger protests and a new round of media attention once the appellate court ruling comes down.
“I think the election has given new life and energy to fringe groups, and certainly it’s been celebrated by the KKK, other racist groups, other so-called heritage groups as well,” Quigley said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say that all the people who want to keep the statues up fall into that category, but a number of them do. And those people have been emboldened by the presidential election.”
In January, a month after the Council vote, the news website Breitbart ran an article headlined “Bulldozing Monuments and the War on American History.” The author argued that in the future, “monuments will increasingly face a permanent and revolving ideological test, subjected to destruction after sudden shifts in power and minor changes in the cultural milieu.”
The publisher of Breitbart, where that article appeared, is Steve Bannon, who Trump has named his chief White House strategist. He is strongly tied to the alt-right movement that has links to white nationalism. His website covered the New Orleans monument removal closely and published articles defending efforts to remove Confederate symbolism.
But Quigley said he expects the attention now focused on Bannon’s ties to the alt-right, and the anger over his appointment, is likely to stir up feelings about Confederate monuments among people who want them down. The mood among Trump supporters could also help fuel larger anti-removal protests than before.
“I think they can’t help but be energized by the election and I certainly would expect they’re going to make their feelings known,” Quigley said. “There’s going to be a lot going on once they start coming down.”
Even so, Quigley acknowledged, it’s possible the court ruling could go the other way. Although most people who attended oral arguments on Sept. 28 thought judges sounded like they were leaning toward ruling in the city’s favor, it’s possible the ruling could keep the monuments in place, and that decision would likely roil protesters who have already been active this year protesting other racially-focused incidents such as the death of Alton Sterling.
Either way, Quigley said to expect the Confederate monuments issue to gain attention nationwide, likely even bigger than it was when the City Council voted in December.
“If the green light is given, I expect it will be a significant national story,” he said.
Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said that even if the monuments decision fuels larger protests, the NOPD has plans to deal with the demonstrations. That includes providing safe areas for demonstrators, whether they’re opposed to removal or in favor of it.
“When we had the protest in Jackson Square, there were four groups protesting,” Gamble said. “We try to be in touch with demonstrators and organizers to have a safe space to do what they have to do.”