Kentucky governor against removing Confederate symbols

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says he "absolutely" disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments from government property, calling it the "sanitization of history."

Bevin said Tuesday it would doom society to never learn from its mistakes, and he compared it to the cultural destruction practiced by totalitarian organizations like the Islamic State group.

His comments come as state and local government leaders across the country consider removing symbols from the Confederacy following violent protests at a weekend white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people died.

But Bevin seemed to contradict his 2015 stance, when as the GOP nominee for governor he was one of the first Republicans to call for removing a Jefferson Davis statue from the rotunda of the state Capitol.

"It is important never to forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property," Bevin said at the time, less than a week after nine people were murdered in a racially-motivated attack at an African-American church in South Carolina.

But days after three people were killed following violent protests at a white supremacist rally in Virginia, Bevin told a WVHU radio host Tuesday it was dangerous to "pretend it didn't happen."

Hours later, Bevin confirmed those comments to reporters at the state Capitol, comparing it to what the Islamic State group does "with the destruction of any kind of history or a different culture when they move into a new territory."

"I think it is a very dangerous precedent to pretend that your history is not your history," Bevin said. "That doesn't mean you have to embrace it. It doesn't mean you agree with it or even like it. But to pretend it does not exist, to remove it from the landscape of discussion and the ability to learn from (it) is a very dangerous proposition."

Asked if he still supports removing the Davis statute from the Capitol, Bevin said: "Hatred and bigotry has no place whatsoever in Kentucky." Asked a second time he said: "What I am saying today is what I believe, and that is that this is a dangerous precedent." Asked a third time, he said the decision is in the hands of a state commission that governs historic properties.

Kentucky's Capitol rotunda includes five statutes of native Kentuckians, including Lincoln, who signed the emancipation proclamation, and Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy. A plaque on Davis' statue identifies him as a "patriot - hero - statesman." The statue, unveiled in 1936, was erected by the state with the help of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The statue is governed by the Historic Properties Advisory Commission, which in 2015 decided to keep the statue in place but to provide more historical context for it. Two years later, the commission is just beginning that process.

Other Kentucky cities are taking action to remove their Confederate symbols. Last year, Louisville officials removed a Confederate monument near the University of Louisville and relocated it to Brandenburg, about 40 miles away.

And Tuesday, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said he will ask the city council to take the first step in removing two Confederate memorials to Confederate officers John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan.

But the leader of a white nationalist group said they are planning a community organizing campaign in Lexington. Matthew Heimbach, chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party, said the campaign would not solely focus on the removal of the statues but also "White working class areas on economic and social justice."

Bevin said Tuesday he would continue to call out racism and bigotry "for the heinous stance that it is, regardless of what corner it comes from."

"People can pretend there is not two sides. There is people who are hateful of people based on their color on all sides of the color spectrum. It's unacceptable," he said.

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