City leaders respond to controversial protest at Lee Park

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- The effort to stand against the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville was taken to a whole new level on Saturday night.

Chanting "Russia is our friend," an alt-right group lit torches at Lee Park because members say they're preserving European-American heritage.

Denouncing the protests, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer says it reminds him of the country's worst chapters in history.

"I think it was meant to inspire fear and even terror with our vulnerable populations," said Signer.

That protest follows one from earlier in the day where pro-statue protesters clashed with people at Jackson Park.

Signer says these extremist groups are angry with the direction of the country.

"What a lot of the alt-right and the extremist trafficking in this kind of theatrics want is more oxygen," said Signer. "I really want to deny them that oxygen."

It was Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy who led the charge to remove Confederate monuments from Charlottesville last year.

He says this type of protest shows the white supremacy that exists in the community.

"We can't be the capital of the resistance or a welcoming city when we still have individuals who feel like it's okay to send clear messages of intimidation to minority communities, and individuals who are not in the majority," said Bellamy.

The Blue Ribbon Commission also worked for months to recommend to the city council on what councilors should do with the monuments.

CBS19 asked Don Gathers, the former chair of the commission, if he expected this type of response from their decision.

"Even during the process of our work the covers were pulled back and the wizard was revealed so to speak," said Gathers. "What happened yesterday was tantamount to a Klan rally."

Signer says that type of behavior will not be tolerated.

"We do value diversity, tolerance, difference," said Signer. "That is the source of our strength, that is source of our country's strength, and we will not stand for this kind of despicable behavior."

The protests come ahead of Monday's city council meeting, where councilors are set to decide on the remaining recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

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