The Trump administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has spent millions of tax dollars guarding Confederate monuments, according to an Associated Press investigation.
Ever since August of 2017 — when white supremacists killed one counter-protester and injured nearly two dozen others over Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue — the VA ramped up spending on private security patrols around various Confederate monuments. The AP reports that the agency has spent more than $3 million guarding eight Confederate monuments in six states — Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Virginia.
Jessica Schiefer, who is a spokesperson for the VA’s Department of National Cemetery Administration, justified the spending on private security, telling the AP that the agency has to “ensure the safety of staff, property, and visitors” at all of the Confederate monuments located on national cemetery grounds.
“[The VA] has a responsibility to protect the federal property it administers and will continue to monitor and assess the need for enhanced security going forward,” Schiefer stated.
Confederate monuments have been a point of contention since 2015, when a pro-Confederate lone gunman killed nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, protesters have railed against the monuments as symbols of a racist past that shouldn’t be honored, Many have been torn down without warning, as was the case at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, when students tore down the “Silent Sam” statue.
The Southern Poverty Law Center also made a graphic showing that many of the Confederate monuments throughout America were constructed during periods of racial tension, like the Jim Crow era and during the Civil Rights Movement, leading some observers to believe their intent wasn’t to document history, but to intimidate African Americans.
While many of the monuments honor Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general actually discouraged the commemoration of the Confederacy following the South’s surrender to the Union. In a letter to Civil War veterans who invited him to place a marker on the Gettysburg battlefield, Lee remarked that it would be better to commit memories of the Confederacy “to oblivion” in order to avoid re-opening “the sores of war.”
“I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject,” Lee wrote in 1869. “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.