More than a week after the violent clashes between white nationalists and anti-racist activists left 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer and two Virginia troopers dead and many injured, the discussion continues to be debated in Northeast Tennessee.
“I rarely post political statements on my personal Facebook page. After listening to our President last night, I feel the need to let my constituents know where I stand. Black Lives Matter, the KKK, and Neo-Nazis are racist hate groups and I condemn them,” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, wrote on Facebook last week after President Donald Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. “Some of those groups have taken a banner that is dear to my heart and made it one of their symbols. For me, Robert E. Lee’s battle flag is a symbol of freedom. Stonewall Jackson was my father’s hero.”
The statement on the representative's personal Facebook page brought criticism from Women Matter Northeast Tennessee.
“It is during times like these that we would hope our State Representative would join us in denouncing those very things,” the group said in a press release. “On August 16, 2017, Rep. Van Huss not only failed to condemn those acts of terrorism in Charlottesville, he failed to acknowledge the value of the human lives that were lost and to express sympathy or condolences to the families and loved ones of those murdered in Charlottesville.”
The group implored Van Huss to use his public forum and elected position as the representative for the state’s 6th House District to speak out against acts of violence, and to express his support for efforts in District 6 of Washington County that promote unity.
“We would like to invite Representative Van Huss to engage with members of Women Matter Northeast Tennessee in a conversation that includes these issues, and call upon Rep. Van Huss to work to ensure every person in District 6 of Washington County be equally represented by him regardless of their race, sexuality, or beliefs,” the group said in the release.
Van Huss’ response to the group’s invitation and criticisms was clear. He said he would not join the local women’s rights group in any endeavor, partly due to the fact that the group is aligned with the Democratic Party and devote much of their work to reproductive rights.
“I will not stand with an organization that is for the murdering of babies,” Van Huss said. “If they don't like my comments, don't read my Facebook page.”
Like Trump, Van Huss doubled down on the position that both the white supremacists and counter protesters were to blame for what happened in Charlottesville. The president went as far as to say there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Van Huss said his comparison of Black Lives Matter to such groups as the KKK is not an exaggeration, citing such militant chants made by Black Lives Matter activists as “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon!” To Van Huss, this is one of the reasons Black Lives Matter should be considered a hate group.
He also said he disagrees with the notion that the Civil War was over slavery, calling it a “false narrative.” When asked why so many people of color seem to have contempt for figures such as Robert E. Lee and the battle flag which he fought under, he said, “I don't know that I'm experienced enough to answer that.”
Van Huss said the Civil War was a noble fight for states’ rights. In his view, the flag of the Confederacy symbolizes freedom.
“Just as the United States declared independence from Britain in response to a repressive government, the Confederate States declared independence from the United States in response to an oppressive and overreaching federal government. The Stars and Stripes, to me, is a symbol of freedom. In the same way, the Stars and Bars also symbolizes to me freedom from an oppressive government,” Van Huss said.
Last week, when asked about his support for Confederate monuments amid the debate about whether they should be removed from public property, Van Huss said the secession of the South is a part of history that can be learned from but can’t be erased.
After reading the recent statement from Women Matter, Van Huss also had this to say:
“Both the United States and Confederacy were wrong to legalize slavery. Every life is a gift from God. Every life matters,” Van Huss said. “Anyone who murders is wrong, whether it is a woman killing her child or someone using a car to kill protesters.”
Ruth Taylor Read, chairwoman of Women Matter, said Confederate symbols are not “symbols of freedom,” rather, they are the symbols of a dark time in American history in which more than half a million Americans perished.
“Rep. Van Huss grew up participating as a Confederate in Civil War re-enactments with his father. His comparison of the Black Lives Matter movement to a hate group reflects a need for education on those groups of people who spend a great deal of time working on social justice issues,” Read said. “He grew up in a time when ‘lost cause’ propaganda went unchallenged. Those days are gone.”
In the wake of the violence by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Read said “there should be no confusion about white supremacy” by Van Huss, adding that if the representative wants to preserve history, Confederate monuments would be better off in historical museums. She said she would like to see a “clear statement denouncing racism and those who participate in acts of violence.”
“Today’s civil rights movements remove the mythical aura surrounding the justification for these monuments,” Read said. “Is Rep. Van Huss willing to publicly engage in conversations surrounding racial justice?”
Van Huss thinks his Facebook post was misconstrued by the local group, which he again criticized for their stance on reproductive rights.
“WMNT and I stand on the same issue of condemning this hate, though as stated, I will not stand ‘with’ any group that condones the killing of babies such as the WMNT,” Van Huss reiterated in an email.
In a personal statement to the Johnson City Press, former Johnson City Mayor Mickii Carter, vice chairwoman of Women Matter, called on Van Huss to “honor the constitutional rights of all of his constituents” and take a stronger stance against white supremacy without deflecting.
Email Brandon Paykamian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brandon Paykamian on Twitter at @PaykamianJCP. Like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PaykamianJCP.