Vice President Mike Pence offered a defense of Confederate Civil War monuments in an interview on Fox and Friends Tuesday, declaring that he’s “someone who believes in more monuments, not less monuments.”
Pence also referred to the various campaigns seeking the monuments’ removal as a “contemporary political cause” when asked about President Donald Trump’s much-criticized response to the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the debate over Civil War monuments that followed. In a wild, impromptu press conference last week, Trump bemoaned the loss of monuments marking the Confederacy, suggesting that the campaign for their removal is a slippery slope: “I wonder, is it George Washington next week?” he said.
On Fox and Friends Tuesday, the Vice President answered with typically measured rhetoric but offered an unmistakable endorsement for those advocating the preservation of Confederate Civil War monuments.
“I hold the view that it’s important that we remember our past and build on the progress that we have made,” Pence said. “What we have to walk away from is a desire by some to erase parts of our history just in the name of some contemporary political cause.”
Pence was asked specifically to weigh in about Confederate statues in the United States Capitol building (each state is allowed two statues in the Capitol, and 12 of the 100 statues there today depict Confederate leaders).
“Obviously, I think that should always be a local decision,” Pence said. “And with regard to the US Capitol, should be a state decision. I’m someone who believes in more monuments, not less monuments. What we ought to do is remember our history. But we also ought to celebrate the progress that we have made since that history.”
The Vice President cited his experience remembering a dark moment in US history, telling the story of “when I walked back in 2010 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with (civil rights icon & Rep.) John Lewis, arm and arm, and we remembered Bloody Sunday and the extraordinary progress of the civil rights movement.”
The Edmund Pettus Bridge – named for a Confederate general who became a leader of the KKK and went on to serve as a Democratic US senator from Alabama – was transformed into a symbol of the civil rights movement after the infamous “Bloody Sunday” protests in 1965.
Pence continued: “I can’t help but think that rather than pulling down monuments, as some are wont to do, rather than tearing down monuments that have graced our cities all across this country for years, we ought to be building more monuments. We ought to be celebrating the men and women who have helped our nation move toward a more perfect union.”
Monuments generate flashpoints
A nationwide debate surrounding this issue has long been underway, partially sparked by Dylann Roof’s murder of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015 in an effort to “start a race war.” It flared up again after white nationalists marched earlier this month to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester was killed amid violent clashes between demonstrators.
The National Register of Historic Places does not keep a detailed list of Confederate memorials. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 1,503 Confederate “place names and other symbols in public spaces” across the nation but admitted the study was “far from comprehensive.” Some Civil War monuments in the South, such as at battlefields, do not have pro-Confederate symbolism.
Many local government officials are now weighing whether to keep Confederate memorials in their cities and towns.