A Republican state senator in Virginia known for courting controversy and who is running for governor in 2021 is facing backlash from members of her own party after she said that the removal of Confederate statues is an "overt effort to erase all white history."
Sen. Amanda Chase, whose majority-white district is just west of the capital, Richmond, made related comments in a fundraising email and a video shared Wednesday on Facebook live — a day before Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced that statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee and four other Confederate leaders along Richmond's Monument Avenue will be dismantled.
His decision came amid a longstanding debate about whether Confederate symbols should be taken down because they represent a racist legacy and a divided nation or if they have historical and cultural significance worth preserving. Following national unrest related to the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, cities like Birmingham and Mobile in Alabama moved swiftly to remove such statues.
During a five-minute video on Facebook, Chase said Virginia's "Socialist Democrats" were making a mistake if they did something similar.
"There is an overt effort here to erase white history. That's what they're looking on doing," Chase said. "Listen, our grandfathers were guilty of slavery, and that is wrong. And I denounce that. I feel like slavery is wrong, it is evil. We should never own another human being. But that's not the only thing that Lee and others are known for. They did other things."
She went on to say that the removal of monuments is a First Amendment issue and represent artistic expression, and that she is forced to stand by while Democrats allow art that she believes is pornographic to be taught in public schools. She was accused last summer of going on a "censorship crusade."
"I think it's racially insensitive and racist in itself not to respect the history of all Americans," Chase said, adding: "It's all about shoving this down people's throats and erasing the history of the white people. And I think it's wrong. I would never do that to another person, another culture."
She also shared a petition on Facebook to save the monument, writing that "removing the Robert E. Lee statue is a cowardly capitulation to the looters and domestic terrorists."
Virginia Senate GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., denounced Chase's comments in a statement Thursday while also supporting her larger message that the monuments must remain.
"Attempts to eradicate instead of contextualizing history invariably fail," Senate GOP leaders wrote. "And because of this Governor's personal history, the motivations of this decision will always be suspect. Like Senator Chase's idiotic, inappropriate and inflammatory response, his decision is more likely further to divide, not unite, Virginians."
In an emailed response to the statement, Chase's adviser, Philip Search, said Friday that the senator invites the GOP caucus to direct their efforts against Northam instead of "colluding with him," and that "Amanda Chase is the first female Republican candidate for Governor and these men can't handle it."
"We are clearly opposed to removing the statues and erasing American history," Search added. "False attacks from extreme Democrats, the liberal media, and the failed Republican establishment elite will not deter us."
Chase, who took office in 2016, is a vocal proponent of gun rights, proudly wearing a holstered pistol on her hip during this year's General Assembly session, and says she unabashedly supports President Donald Trump. Her Facebook page includes screengrabs about antifa, the leftwing anti-fascist movement, during recent protests, which have been discredited as misinformation and tagged by Facebook as "false information."
Chase has also clashed with her own party. In March 2019, she was accused of chastising and hurling profanities at a Capitol Police officer who told her she couldn't park in an area outside of Capitol Square, leading the GOP to write a letter of support to police. Chase also later apologized. She was also expelled from the Chesterfield GOP last fall and declined to be a member of the Senate GOP caucus, saying her party needed new leadership after the state Senate and House flipped in favor of the Democrats for the first time in a generation.
The Virginia House GOP caucus has not commented specifically on the removal of the statues, but criticized Northam's handling of the recent protests, as well as the looting and violence, in parts of Virginia, including Richmond.
Governors of Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms, and Northam's time in office has been gripped by scandal over racist photos on his medical school yearbook page from decades earlier.
Chase, so far, is the only Republican to announce a gubernatorial campaign. Potential Democratic rivals include Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe as well as Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, both of whom were swept into their own scandals amid the fallout from the Northam controversy.
Northam's office did not return a request for comment about Chase's remarks.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which has about two dozen lawmaker members, released a statement in support of the governor's decision, saying its "long overdue removal ... is an important step towards honestly and clearly addressing our Commonwealth's and our country's past."
"These structural and monumental symbols have been extremely offensive to Black America and others," Delegate Delores McQuinn, a longtime Democratic leader from Richmond, said, adding that the statue represents an "inhumane cause" that remains "so offensive and so hurtful."
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At a news conference Thursday, Northam said that Virginia will "no longer preach a false version of history" and "in 2020, we can no longer tolerate a system that was based on buying and selling of people."
The Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a distant nephew of the Confederate general, told reporters that he supports the removal of the statue, which went up in 1890 and is part of a historic landmark in Richmond.
"We have created an idol of white supremacy," the Rev. Lee said, adding that "I don't see it as an erasure at all. I see it as the time to do what's right."
It is unclear when the Lee statue and others would be removed, although the Democratic-controlled House and Senate approved a bill this year allowing communities, beginning in July, to decide for themselves if they want to remove Confederate monuments. Northam said the community will help determine what should be done with the monument to Lee.