By Sophia A. Nelson

I recently wrote a piece suggesting that a great nation does not hide from nor ignore its history. I believed then that America and Americans were bigger than our past and that statues of Confederate war heroes, or men who owned slaves, should not be removed, but instead be studied, discussed and pointed out for who and what America once was in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Then came the events of August 12, 2017 and the open ugliness of Nazis, white supremacists, and the KKK marching near Mr. Jefferson’s beloved University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. I live in Leesburg, Virginia, which is about an hour away. These events took place in my backyard so to speak. My fellow Virginians of all colors were talking about it at the grocery store, Starbucks and in church the next day. We were in a collective state of disbelief that such events could take place in such a peaceful, diverse and historic town.

Like most Americans, I was stunned, horrified, and appalled at the spectacle of angry white men marching openly in the streets with torches, chanting Nazisms — and doing so with no sheets on their heads. David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, ultimately congratulated the president along with white nationalist Richard Spencer for not condemning their ilk when he had the chance in his remarks that Saturday afternoon.

But here’s what really changed my mind about the monuments: Those young white men dressed in “Trump khakis” and red “Make America Great Again” Hats. They were shouting. Angry. Carrying torches. Punching and spitting at people.

These are America’s sons. Future leaders. College-aged boys who have been radicalized by white supremacist groups who have convinced them that the black and brown, the Jewish and Muslim are taking something from them that is rightfully theirs.

We must push back against this radicalization because it is every bit as dangerous as ISIS, the Taliban and other terrorist groups that target young men (and women) and teach them how to hate, kill and destroy other human beings. These young men are being preyed upon because of their social station in life, their fears and their misunderstanding of the very history they seek to protect.
Remembering is powerful. Remembering, forces us to become wiser. But if these confederate symbols and monuments are going to be used as a rallying cry for the KKK and other hate groups to divide our nation further then we must remove them all, now. But know that we do so at our peril.

At peril to our freedoms of speech, association, and freedom to disagree.

Read the entire OpEd here.

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