James Brousse plans to spend a good chunk of the next few weeks “protecting” New Orleans’s Confederate monuments from impending demolition, and the 81-year-old has a message for police who will try to keep the peace: You can leave the snipers at home.
Brousse, the commander of the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, is part of a group of about a dozen people who have stood vigil for the past week at three monuments honoring the Confederacy — landmarks that city leaders say are mostly out of touch with how most residents see their city.
Brousse was at the first protest, surrounded by what he called an “overblown” police presence, holding candles and watching quietly as workers disassembled a monument honoring rebels who tried to overthrow the New Orleans city government after the Civil War.
And Brousse and his ad hoc group (some are members of Sons of Confederate Veterans, though the group has not officially endorsed the protests) are vowing to continue “protecting” the remaining monuments, which honor Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a Louisiana native.
The desire to deconstruct the monuments came as the city began rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The anti-Confederate sentiment intensified in New Orleans, as it has elsewhere, after nine black churchgoers were killed June 17, 2015, at a church in Charleston, S.C., in a racially motivated massacre. The killer, Dylann Roof, was seen on one website holding a gun in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) has contended that memorials to the defenders of slavery are out of touch with the opinions of most of the city’s residents. The monuments also put some of the most divisive parts of the city’s past in some of its most prominent places, he has said.
“As we began to rebuild our city and think again about who we were and what we were, these monuments popped just right up,” Landrieu said April 24 on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. “And [we] said, ‘Why do we have monuments that are revering the Confederacy right in the heart of the most prominent places in the city — in places of reverence?’ ”
As The Washington Post’s Avi Selk reported, the workers who removed the first memorial on the morning of April 24 wore masks, flak jackets and Kevlar helmets. They were protected by police snipers perched in a nearby building.
The mayor said the extra protection was needed because of threats made to contractors hired to remove the monuments. Shortly after the city announced that David Mahler’s company received a contract, his $200,000 Lamborghini was torched, according to Lafayette, La., CBS-affiliate KLFY.
“I don’t know if this has anything to do with a job he was recently CONTRACTED to do and decided not to take or if there is another reason but it makes me sad that someone would go this far,” his wife wrote on Facebook after the incident, according to the news station. “The hate in this world is too thick, so I’ll be the bigger person and only spread love back. This has to stop!!”
Brousse told The Post on Saturday that the rumors or threats and violence had been overblown and that the protests have been peaceful.
Sons of Confederate Veterans is passionate about the memorials, but they’ve spent two years working for change in the court system and in Louisiana’s legislature.
The group has also asked like-minded people to boycott the city, said Tom Strain, the commander in chief of Sons of Confederate Veterans. They’re planning a news conference in the next week.
Brousse said the group hasn’t been responsible for any violence behind the mock reenactments of Civil War battles. “We’re not violent people,” Brousse said. “I’m a citizen of New Orleans.”
Brousse said the monuments are a testament to the city’s history — even if it is a blemished past — and that they shouldn’t be brought down just because they’re out of step with modern viewpoints. In the monuments, he said, he sees honor for the sacrifice of his great-great-uncle, Jean Brousse, a veteran of the Civil War. “This is our history.”
He and others protesting the removal of the monuments worry that these four memorials are just the first step in erasing uncomfortable aspects of the city’s history. City officials have floated the idea of renaming streets named after prominent Confederates and even removing a statue of President Andrew Jackson, he told The Post.
He believes those fights are on the horizon, even as the monument battle draws to a close.
Landrieu wouldn’t give the date the city plans to take down the other monuments, but he said it’s coming soon.
“The thing that makes New Orleans really wonderful and beautiful that everybody experiences when you get here … is our diversity,” he said. “That’s the gift that New Orleans has given to the rest of the country, and these statues are an aberration.”