The Atlantic

The Statues of Unliberty

Eight Confederate leaders are honored with sculptures in the halls of Congress.
Source: Susan Walsh / AP

Members of Congress publicly condemned the white nationalists who’d gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. “The views fueling this spectacle are repugnant,” House Speaker Paul Ryan declared on Saturday. “I wholeheartedly oppose their actions,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged her fellow Americans to support diversity and “reject hate,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the march and rally were “against everything the flag stands for.”

But the protesters weren’t waving the stars and stripes. America’s resurgent white-nationalist movement thrives on the power of imagery and symbolism, especially the symbols of the Confederacy. And right in the United States Capitol, there’s a collection of monuments to their cause.

Thanks to segregationist Southern state legislatures in the early 20th century, eight statues of Confederate leaders currently reside in the National Statuary Hall Collection on Capitol Hill. They include Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Lee, whose Charlottesville monument was the focal point of this weekend’s strife. These bronze and marble figures, standing in the center of American democracy, pay tribute to the same authoritarian forces that congressional leaders eagerly denounced.

States can voluntarily swap out their statues for new ones at will, thanks to a 2000 amendment to the original federal law authorizing the collection. But Congress is ultimately responsible for what can and can’t be kept within the Capitol; the senators and representatives

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