Threats of physical violence have been made against contractors and city employees associated with the effort to remove New Orleans monuments to high Confederate officials and a white supremacist militia, prompting renewed security measures, a senior city official said Thursday.
Those threats, as well as lower-level harassment of contractors and other organizations, have come throughout the lengthy process of trying to remove the four monuments, said the official in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, who couched them as extensions of tactics used against civil rights efforts for more than a century.
“Individuals that want to maintain oppression and racism and hold this city back have and continue to engage in textbook intimidation and threats of violence against city employees and contractors,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of security issues surrounding the monuments’ removal.
Only one bidder has submitted a proposal to take down three Confederate monuments in New Orl…
“This reaffirms we’re doing the right thing and doing it for the right reasons,” the official said. “This only strengthens the mayor and our team’s resolve to not be intimidated.”
The comments evince the frustration that city officials are feeling surrounding the effort to remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a marker honoring the Reconstruction era militia known as the White League.
Landrieu first proposed taking down the monuments nearly two years ago, and the City Council approved their removal 14 months ago.
Throughout that process, stalled as court battles played out, much of the opposition to the removal of the monuments has been centered in a Facebook group known as Save Our Circle that has more than 13,000 members. The name refers to Lee Circle, the site of the Robert E. Lee statue.
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It is unclear how many of the members live in the New Orleans area, although many have made threats never to visit the city if the monuments come down.
That group has posted information about contractors and others potentially involved in the removal process, including personal information and contact numbers and details about the ownership and licensing of firms, alongside calls to boycott them and let them know of the group’s disapproval.
“Within the Save Our Circle group and other historic preservationists,” said George Peterson, a member of the group, “our goal is to remain cordial and polite with whoever we talk to, whether it’s a peaceful boycott of businesses that are involved in taking down monuments that are part of our historical landscape or when talking to our legislators in Baton Rouge.”
Moderators of the online group have urged their members to be polite, along with calls to contact legislators or state and federal officials to prevent the statues from being taken down, plus frequent attacks on the mayor’s office. Recently, their message has included support for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s letter to President Donald Trump urging him to declare the statues national monuments that the city would be unable to touch.
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Moderators of the group have in the past put up posts warning they would delete posts that advocate threats or that contain racist content, although some controversial posts — including speculation about Landrieu’s racial lineage and posts calling President Abraham Lincoln a tyrant — have remained.
But city officials lay at least some of the blame for problems in removing the monuments at the group’s feet, casting their efforts as harassment at best and possibly a “significant” threat to individuals at worst.
Since the City Council voted 6-1 in December 2015 to take down the monuments, the Landrieu administration has struggled to find a contractor to do the job.
The first company hired for the effort backed out after its owner reported receiving death threats and, even after quitting the job, found his Lamborghini torched in the company’s parking lot. An attempt to find a new contractor stalled after that, when firms who looked at the bid documents for the job reported receiving harassing phone calls.
In both cases, the reported threats and intimidation came after information about the companies and their owners was posted in Save Our Circle.
Similar information was posted about Cuzan Services Limited, the sole bidder earlier this month on a contract to take down the monuments, and about a company that rumors posted on the page said was planning to assist city workers in removing some of the statues this week, according to the city official.
For their part, members of the group have repeatedly argued that the city has fabricated the threats and that the burning of the original contractor’s car was unrelated to the monument issue.
“I don’t think it ever happened,” Peterson said. “I know it isn’t anybody from our group or any of the groups that want to protect and preserve. We’re going to be able to win the war through peaceful interaction, not through tactics like our opponents have used.”
In statements and interviews with the media, including The New Orleans Advocate, some contractors have directly described the threats they’ve received.
The pro-monuments group and others buzzed with rumors this week that at least some of the monuments would come down Wednesday or Thursday, with some posts including details including a 1 a.m. starting time and the name of a contractor supposedly engaged to assist with the work. The rumors suggested the work would be done primarily by city employees, rather than by Cuzan, with the assistance of an outside firm.
The city has discussed the monuments with that second firm, along with two dozen others, as the process has gone on, the administration official said.
But Wednesday night, at least, passed without any of the statues being removed.
The city official said Thursday there was no plan to take any statues down this week.
Peterson said he suspected the city was “floating a rumor to see what the reaction would be. I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Groups even distantly involved in the effort have also received harassment. Flozell Daniels, CEO and president of the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana, said his group received harassing phone calls and social media posts after agreeing to serve as a conduit for a $170,000 anonymous donation to the city to pay for part of the removal expenses.
Cuzan's bid put the total price at $600,000, and the city is still trying to raise the rest of the money.
Daniels said none of the comments about his organization rose to the level of threats, but he added, “As we’ve seen across the country, sometimes these benign comments turn into actual harm and danger.”
Peterson insisted the Save Our Circle group is peaceful and that it is supporters of taking down the monuments who pose truly violent threats. He pointed to a tire that was set on fire at Confederate Memorial Hall near Lee Circle after Donald Trump’s presidential election and to threats by Take 'Em Down NOLA — a group pushing for the removal of the four monuments and other statues honoring slaveholders — to drag the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square off its pedestal.
In addition, he said that some of those who showed up at a September protest at the Jackson statue wore masks and carried anarchist flags, and he noted that the monuments have repeatedly been vandalized with graffiti calling for their removal and some more violent messages such as “Die whites die.”
“With regard to the grass-roots movement, we have zero tolerance when it comes to racial slurs, and we advocate for cordial and polite interaction, as opposed to the opposition, who has been tagging these monuments and making death threats and threats of violence,” Peterson said.
But the city official said there has been no comparable campaign of harassment from Take 'Em Down or other anti-monument groups — some of whom have been critical of Landrieu’s handling of the issue.
“We have zero proof and have heard of no instances where people have alleged that anybody (from the anti-monument group) has made violent threats,” the official said.