RE Lee Monumental Association: Traitorous slaveowner is an “iconic gentleman to both revere and emulate”

Formed in 2017 by Pierre McGraw and Geary Mason, the RE Lee Monumental Association wants to find a “honorable and respectable location” for the removed Lee statue, as well as “educate and promote the historical importance of RE Lee and Lee Circle in New Orleans.” As such, the Association is a virtual church of Lee, calling him “an iconic gentleman to both revere and emulate” who lived “his beliefs and virtues in a heroic manner” that should be “respected and remembered for generations to come.” (Here’s an actual history of Lee as a saint of the Lost Cause.)

To bolster their worship, the Association relies on the ‘research’ of the Abbeville Institute, a journal whose mission statement includes, “Rarely these days…is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of white people” and which was co-founded by a member of the white nationalist League of the South. An endless rehash of Lost Cause and pro-Confederate thought, the Abbeville Institute believes to be Southern is to be white; that any other history is “an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners…of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity.”

Note the rhyming: in 1884, the Daily Picayune declared that with the Lee statue “we must show to all coming ages that with us, at least, there dwells no sense of guilt.” In 2018, the Abbeville Institute says white Southerners “are being taught to forget their forbearers or to remember them with shame.

The name of the RE Lee Monumental Association itself – which it borrows from the 1870s group that put the statue up – shows their lack of historical awareness. The head of the 1800s association, Judge Charles Fenner, was a member of the Crescent City White League who later ruled against Homer Plessy, forging the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’ Many other original members – including the then-mayor of New Orleans – had been both Confederate soldiers and White League rioters at the Battle of Liberty Place. This is the heritage McGraw and Mason have chosen to continue.

And yet the current Association vehemently denies any relationship between Lee and slavery or racism, claiming the comparison is “political correctness.” (For a deeper look, read this article on how Lee’s statue was a centerpiece of white New Orleans’ power after Reconstruction.)

The RE Lee Historical Association is a religious organization that views Lee as an infallible god and thus cannot engage with any kind of criticism or complexity. This is not history – this is worship.

Your free gift for joining the Abbeville Institute is a book explaining how emancipation was a tragedy.

Some highlights from what the RE Lee association thinks is great history:

“And slavery was, for various industrial, technological, economic, and other pragmatic reasons, on the way out and probably wouldn’t have survived beyond the 1880s regardless of who won the War.”

“To lessen the city’s racial divisiveness, it would be prudent to restore at least one of the four removed monuments, – preferably the Lee statue.”

“[The Union] could have done the same thing to the Confederacy — invade, free the slaves, and return home without forcibly re-absorbing the Confederacy. The reason they didn’t is clear: the war was about secession, not slavery.”

“Operations based on slavery could not compete against enterprises based on consensual, paid employees.” [Ed.: ???]

“Lincoln ended up winning and slavery was ended, which was the one good thing that came out of the war. But it’s not necessary to honor war criminals and white separatists [He’s referring to Lincoln, Sherman, and the Union here] simply because they won, especially when ending slavery wasn’t the reason they initiated the Civil War. Indeed, does winning mean that lies and hypocrisy have to be a major legacy of the Civil War?”

“[Charleston murderer] Dylann Roof is exactly what he was taught that he should be, not according to Southern history, tradition, or culture, but by public school textbooks, the mainstream media, and Hollywood propaganda.”

“Southern symbols mean to the Southerner exactly what they say that they do.”

“The public schools now teach Southern children to be ashamed of who they are and others are taught to despise them.”

“Southerners are under no obligation to participate in our own destruction, or sit quietly while the memory of our kith and kin are slandered and insulted.”

Here is the association trying to claim that Martin Luther King Jr. would support Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson because he would recognize them as honorable men. Ugh. Counterpoint: “For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation – and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”

Frank Stewart: Mitch Landrieu invented white supremacy

A prominent local businessman, Frank Stewart – who literally made his money from death – was the most vocal monument supporter, tangling with Mayor Landrieu through a series of interviews and full-page ads. He is a die-hard fan of the Confederacy and Robert E. Lee whose sense of history is steeped in Lost Cause mythology. He also seems to think that these monuments (and, in fact, all racial tension) were not problems until Mitch Landrieu’s term.

Despite his interest in this topic, he is neither a historian nor represents any particular group. He is just an old rich man that people have decided to take seriously despite saying things like this:

How deep into the abyss of the Lost Cause do you have to be to believe this? To demand a newspaper publish it? To think this would persuade anyone? And this is who we are to trust to contextualize monuments?

There is no defense for this. It is historically, factually, morally wrong. It is horrifying.

(It also fails Louisiana’s Grade 7 social studies standards. We shudder to think what the state’s textbooks said about the Civil War when Frank was in middle school.)

At a speech to the Monumental Task Committee, Frank Stewart continued:

The monuments have nothing to do with slavery. And anyone who knows history can tell you right now that the people featured on these monuments are people who really made a dent in the country we love. They are wonderful people…

We suppose that you can describe the Civil War, which killed close to a million people, as ‘making a dent’ in America.

But if you think Frank Stewart might have a better understanding of more recent and more local history – you’re wrong!

Stewart apparently missed the renaming of New Orleans’ schools in the 1980s and has no recollection of the removal of the Liberty Place monument under Mayor Sidney Barthelemy. ‘Monument defenders’ like to pretend that no one cared about these statues until recently as a way to cast removal as some sudden, political desire instead of a step in a long-running effort.

Just as the Lost Cause relies on a tranquil antebellum South to hide the inhumanity of slavery, Stewart invents a peaceful, racially-harmonious New Orleans anteLandrieum to blame Mitch for what has always lurked under the surface.

Side note: The US Conference of Mayors is not a way to make yourself a national figure.  

At the same MTC meeting, Stewart expanded on Mitch’s role in creating racism:

…there are some people who want – like Mitch made them – make the monuments a symbol of slavery, of discrimination, of segregation, of white supremacy – Mitch made these monuments represent that. That is not true and that is not correct and these monuments are personal memorials….”

Again, New Orleans literally had a monument to white supremacy. It’s telling that Stewart, along with other pro-monument people, forget about the Liberty Place monument. Was it not also a ‘personal memorial’ to the White League? (The White League included, unsurprisingly, the future head of the committee that erected Lee and the mayor of New Orleans that accepted Lee’s statue. Just a fun coincidence!) Their silence on the Liberty Place obelisk is what happens when a dogwhistle becomes a shout.

In arguing against their removal in 2017, Stewart makes an excellent point for our situation in 2018: what was the reason for declaring these statues “at odds with the message of equal rights under the law” – as Mayor Cantrell and five other councilmembers did – if we allow them to be re-erected somewhere else?

Frank, speaking of things other places have had problems with: the monuments, the streets, the buildings, the universities, and many other significant structures

Richard Marksbury: I’m not a historian

A professor at Tulane, Richard Marksbury uses his title to claim academic authority even as he argues tired Lost Cause glorification. (He is not a history professor, though you can read his dissertation on land tenure in the Yap Islands here.)

Never one to turn down an interview, he appeared at least five times on The Battle of New Orleans, a radio show on WGSO 990AM that was eventually shut down due to constant anti-Semitism, threats on local activists, and use of racial slurs on air. The Battle of New Orleans hosted such guests as William Finck, the leader of the white nationalist League of the South, Mark Weber, the head of America’s largest Holocaust-denial organization, and – this being Louisiana – David Duke.

In fact, Richard Marksbury and David Duke appeared on the same show together. Marksbury even had praised Duke’s “brains” for getting the Liberty Place monument restored in the 1990s. (How did that go again?)

Marksbury’s interviews with Battle of New Orleans show how the more radical, alt-right lovers of the Confederacy blend into the more respectable, button-down Lost Causers. In talking to Marksbury, when host Nathan Laurenson refers to Mitch as a “United Nations / Soros-sellout whore of a mayor,” or “Mitch the Globalist,” Marksbury’s response is not to rebuke these bizarre assertions but simply to ask the audience to support him in his nuisance lawsuits and go-nowhere petitions.

(Incidentally, local political personality Jeff Crouere, who programs WGSO, took two years to notice that one of his hosts called himself “Goyim,” a reference to ‘the Goyim know,’ an anti-Semitic meme that claims a vast Jewish conspiracy, and used skinhead rap as commercial bumpers.)

Marksbury has also appeared with Charles Marsala on the Daily Kenn, a white supremacist website hosted by someone who believes that white people are “in the aggregate” smarter than African-Americans or Latinos.

Because he bathes in the Lost Cause, Marksbury is a master of what he thinks is a ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argument but is actually what the kids call “a self-own.” His ‘tongue-in-cheek‘ lawsuit demanding Andrew Jackson be torn down is exactly what his erstwhile enemies at Take ‘Em Down NOLA have demanded. In his review of Landrieu’s book, Marksbury argues that Mitch shouldn’t single out a “Southern society that relied on slave labor” for criticism without implicating the entire American economic system; this is basically what Karl Marx discussed in the 1860s. He has said monument protesters are driven by “emotion” and want “safe spaces” and then, in the same paragraph, whined about “the hurt…I would have if they take down the monument,” saying “the people who get the attention paid to them right now are the minorities, and their emotions.”

Here’s the rare double-self-own, as Stacy Head and Richard Marksbury discuss why Bienville’s statue should be taken down.

And now, after months of complaining about Landrieu’s process and the lack of a city-wide vote, Marksbury and his committee have unilaterally (and secretly) decided what to do with the monuments. Can we please send him back to Yap?

Monumental Task Committee: We are “SOOO proud” of white nationalists

Founded in 1989 to clean up the Jefferson Davis statue, the MTC has done some important work over the last twenty years. Unfortunately, driven by their leader Pierre McGraw, the MTC has failed to engage with the context of New Orleans’ public history, instead retreating to the defensive and antagonistic nostalgia of the Lost Cause.

Even worse, the MTC’s vocal love of the Confederacy has also attracted white nationalist groups, which have used the MTC to promote bigotry.

Though it tries to portray itself as a serious non-profit, occasionally the facade crumbles. After the Lee statue came down, the MTC social media accounts went on a rampage, picking fights with anyone celebrating the removal and vowing revenge against local media. (They especially singled out Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry for criticism but – ironically or appropriately – tagged a different, random black man named Jarvis on Twitter.) The MTC bizarrely blamed the Times-Picayune for the monument’s removal, alternated wallowing in pity, taunting New Orleanians, and gloating that 135 Confederate monuments still stand.

It is not surprising that the devotees of the Lost Cause handle losing poorly. Call it the Lost Cause of the Lost Cause.

Anyway, MTC-head Pierre McGraw – seen here flying a Confederate battle flag on the levee in 2016 – demonstrated his understanding in an interview with BizNewOrleans

If you think of New Orleans, you’ve all heard it called the Great Melting Pot…and that’s only because there’s great diversity in this city and if you start removing icons that represent different heritage in the city, you’re going to be less diverse and you’re going to be less New Orleans.

What heritage do these ‘icons’ represent, Pierre? Maybe it represents the people who would try to argue that removing a monument to white supremacy is an attack on diversity.

Identity Acadia

Identity Acadia is a white nationalist group based in Metairie that wants to establish a white ethno-state for Cajuns by restoring “racial hegemony” in Louisiana. Fiercely xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semetic, Identity Acadia is a spinoff of Identity Evropa, a white supremacist organization whose founder called for the “Nazification of America” and participated in the deadly protests in Charlottesville. (Identity Evropa invented the chant “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” Identity Acadia put stickers up in the Marigny saying “Transplants will not replace us.”)

Seeing opportunity with the monument debate to expand their influence and gain new members, Identity Acadia has tried to ingratiate themselves with more respectable groups. MTC, Forever Lee Circle, and Save Nola Heritage have all promoted Identity Acadia’s work.

Here’s IA cleaning up Gayarre Place in their group’s t-shirts and putting up IA stickers and then MTC praising them.

Here’s Identity Acadia members and MTC volunteers cleaning up the Dreux monument. This ‘volunteer opportunities’ image is not from the MTC’s website but is a recruitment to IA’s white nationalist group.

Do we think that all MTC members believe what IA believes? No, of course not. But, at best, the MTC and other Lost Causers are being used by hate groups to attract new members and to normalize their organizations.

Here’s another example:  Identity Acadia staged several actions around Mardi Gras 2018. One of them – putting stickers on toilets at Lee Circle calling them “Landrieu’s Legacy” – was broadcast to thousands by Forever Lee Circle and Save Nola Heritage.

The lack of research and self-criticism in the Lost Cause is not just limited to historical narratives. A quick investigation into this group – whose name is on their stickers! – should have prevented a white nationalist group from getting a platform for hate. Either the MTC, Forever Lee Circle, and Charles Marsala are blinded to the motives of ‘fellow travelers,’ or they tacitly agree with this head of Identity Acadia. This guy! (NSFW)

Hey, look who else talks about ‘heritage’ in front of monuments. Hmm…

Charles Marsala: Jeff Davis “empowered” slaves with “job training”

Charles Marsala – former mayor of Atherton, Ca., failed Senate candidate, high school classmate of Mayor Landrieu – has dedicated himself to promoting a Lost Cause version of the Confederacy, antebellum nostalgia, and bizarre interpretations of local history. As a self-proclaimed historian with no training, Marsala regularly makes basic factual errors, fails to use primary documents, trusts obviously-biased sources, and consistently ignores context in order to construct hagiographies of Lee, Davis, and even the White League.

When pressed on his views, Marsala lapses into racial stereotypes and white resentment, unable to comprehend the removal of his idols. He also has appeared on white supremacists’ podcasts to describe the local monument protests as a Rothschilds-funded Marxist plot.

Yes, slavery was “in preparation of professional careers after plantation life…” 

Marsala’s lack of basic history skills hasn’t stopped him from misquoting Lee out of context (and getting owned by state Sen. JP Morrell for it,) using a source who claims the Civil War was caused by Lincoln’s debt to the Union Pacific railroad, and that believing that slave-owning, Confederacy-leading Davis was one of “the most liberal and progressive men of his era.

Not surprisingly, he is also one of the few people to defend the Battle of Liberty Place monument. But his complete lack of understanding of Reconstruction has led him to believe that this racist coup was actually about ‘voter suppression’ of whites,  ‘confiscation of guns,’ and ‘high municipal debt.’ (He gets this information from a history written in 1955 that calls the White League “heroes” and the 14th Amendment “coerced.” A reminder: the platform of the Crescent City White League called for an “effort to re-establish a white man’s government in the city.”)


More worrisome is Charles’ use of stereotypes and his ventures into alt-right bigotry. Here he is liking a post claiming that African-Americans should be “thankful” that their ancestors were “saved by slavery and not eaten by their kinsmen.” Here he is liking a post that declares New Orleans “a den of anti-white racism.” When a local activist pointed out his defense of white supremacy, Marsala argued that his definition of ‘white supremacy’ is “Buying a Mercedes, Porche, Ferrari, or Royals Royce, etc because you believe Europeans make better cars” [all sic] and then claimed, based on his high school track days, that African-Americans “are superior in speed.”

Put Charles Marsala in front of a camera and there’s more nonsense. During the monument removal, Marsala worked as a roving reporter for the Daily Kenn, a website run by Kenn Gividen. (Gividen ran for office in 2016 as part of the white nationalist American Freedom Party and believes white people are, “in the aggregate,” more intelligent than blacks or Latinos.) After Memphis removed their statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Marsala proceeded to agree that monument removal is a form of “white genocide,” and entertained the idea that if we “really cared” about racism we should take down mosques. Charles then took the opportunity to describe the May 1st fracas in New Orleans using a common anti-Semitic conspiracy theory:

There was a huge banner…of the antifa crowd that had the Rothschild family crest on it. And when we started researching that, the Rothschild family funded Karl Marx so i have to argue right now that I believe a lot of what we’re seeing right now is part of this Marxism theory, you mentioned earlier about cultural genocide

In March 2017, Marsala appeared on ‘Coffee with Kevin.’ In a brisk interview, he argued, based on the nuisance ordinance, against putting the statues back up and demonstrated a baffling view of segregation era politics.

[When asked about the re-contextualizing the statues off their pedestals in parks] “Take em Down Nola or any group that opposed those monuments should sue the city and say, “You’ve declared it a nuisance – it’s a nuisance, period…it’s a nuisance if it’s above twenty feet in the air but it’s not a nuisance at two feet?…” If Lee is a nuisance, he’s a nuisance. If Beauregard’s a nuisance, he’s a nuisance.”

“That era [Jim Crow] which ends with Mayor Morrison is an era where politicians thought they actually needed to be segregationists to win. And [Mayor] Walmsley in 1930 kinda does that – [Mayor] Shakspeare in 1890s does that – so you see the politicians but if you look at the people who donated the money, especially the Beauregard, they were the average citizens.”

If only Wallace, Maddox, and Barnett had known they didn’t need to be segregationists we could have solved this kerfuffle sooner. Thanks, Charles!

Forever Lee Circle: Slave history is just to shame whites

The seller of the Forever Lee Circle beads, Miriam Owens provides a physical totem for Lost Causers to declare their rejection of Lee’s removal. Her own views drift from Confederate apologia to alt-right white supremacy while her popular Facebook page provides a forum for hate speech. (See Part 4 to read her flawed goals for her committee.)

We did Google “Lee kept slaves safe” and this came up: how Robert E. Lee’s slaves, rather than being freed immediately upon their former master’s death as promised, were brutally worked on a plantation for an additional five years. What a Virginia gentleman! Oh, and that Lee “never spoke out against slavery.” (And before the Lost Causers jump in – we’ve read that quote in context.)

It is, of course, a basic tenet of the Lost Cause that slavery was a benevolent good, filled with happy slaves and kindly masters.

Owens embraces a number of Lost Cause revisions. Even simple facts – like that Beauregard’s Confederates fired the first shots of the war at Ft. Sumter with South Carolina’s secession – become twisted into Beauregard was “intentionally provoked by the North in order to make it ‘appear’ as if the South was the aggressor.” Or that the connection between these monuments and Jim Crow is somehow “fake.” (New Orleans, it must be reminded, had a statue that literally had “white supremacy” chiseled into it.)

Miriam Owens’ flawed history occasionally gives way to bigotry. According to Owens, the real perpetrators of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were “the Jews, the Muslims, and the Africans themselves.” Or that a new plaque going up in the French Quarter that teaches about the slave history of New Orleans “feels more like an opportunity to shame than an opportunity to learn.”

Even worse, Owens dredges up pieces of alt-right memes to share with her thousands of followers. Multiple times she has joked that Mayor Mitch Landrieu should be renamed “Mitchell Luther Kang,” a reference to a meme “We Wuz Kangz.” “We Wuz Kangz” uses a bevy of stereotypes around African-Americans claiming a link to their ancestry – that Africans were kings – to denigrate the study of African-American history and African-Americans in general. Owens clearly expects her audience to get the joke.

She even shared a picture of an “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” poster to discuss how whites are being “suppressed” by revenge-thirsty blacks. “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” is an alt-right slogan popular with trolls and white nationalists, especially on college campuses. (In their minds, colleges are designed to tell students that it’s not okay to be white.) Locally, the posters have appeared at Tulane and at Ben Franklin HS. From this very post:

There is a movement afoot to condemn “Whiteness” and those who are white are automatically “White Supremacists” or as I’ve been called “Nazi’s”.

The [Charlottesville] Torch rally was a REACTION to the “down with Whiteness” movement.

When has the suppression of one group in order to lift another up ever worked?!? Also do they expect cart blanche with no resistance. Is it OK to be proud of your heritage if you’re White? Is it OK to be proud of our country and flag?!? [She means the Confederacy.]

The black experience of suppression has led to some becoming the suppressors. The taste of revenge can be sweet. I urge America not to go down this road. We don’t need to suppress American “Whiteness” in order to lift up Black Americans or any other group. We shouldn’t shame white Americans because that achieves nothing.

Miriam Owens is a great example of how easily Lost Cause thought aligns with both subtle and overt racism, because these ideas – a benevolent slavery, a kindly Lee, a wronged Confederacy – derive from a place and time of white supremacy. This is her real heritage: a century-old tradition of funneling white grievance and white supremacy through Confederate memory.

UPDATE (5.29): Since being called a white nationalist in this article from Splinter, Owens is out trying to convince the world she’s not a white supremacist. In response to a Times-Picayune article Forever Lee Circle posted a letter – possibly written by someone else, but at least endorsed by Forever Lee Circle – ending with this. Clearly the best way to prove you aren’t racist is by referring to “Negroid” people, claim you know racism is alive because you heard “the Afro American community when it comments on whites” and saying “Mayor Cantrelle” should see the city through “rose-colored glasses” and not “black lenses.” And, yes, the author refers to her as “Cantrelle” throughout. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯