After last year’s fatal confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, the federal government has spent millions of dollars employing private security guards to patrol at least eight Confederate cemeteries, according to documents from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Seven out of eight of VA-controlled Confederate cemeteries are patrolled 24/7, with the hopes of preventing further vandalism, after confederate memorials were defaced following the violence in Charlottesville.
Documents secured by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act prove that the VA has spent nearly $3 million on Confederate cemetery security since August 2017. Records show other $1.6 million is budgeted for 2019 to fund security at all Confederate monuments.
Jessica Schiefer, spokeswoman for the VA’s National Cemetery Administration says the security was necessary “to ensure the safety of staff, property and visitors paying respect to those interred,” she confirmed in a statement. Furthermore, veteran affairs “has a responsibility to protect the federal property it administers and will continue to monitor and assess the need for enhanced security going forward.”
Interestingly, most of the Confederate cemeteries are in the North, with monuments paying respects to deceased soldiers and prisoners of war. Some members of Congress however, are still unsure if the spending is really necessary.
Steve Ellis, executive vice president of the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, said this type of costly security represents the “spending inertia” or the perpetual government spending that is all too common.
“Unfortunately what happens with the government is once you start spending money on something, you generally continue to spend money on it,” Ellis said.
Bobby Rush, Democratic representative from Chicago whose district is home to one cemetery, is already speaking out about the financial findings. He explained in a statement that while he fully supports the prevention of vandalism, agencies “must remain vigilant in evaluating” government spending.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The spike in Confederate vandalisms comes as a direct response to nine black churchgoers being gunned down by a white supremacist in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, followed by the battle in Charlottesville when white nationalists marched at The University of Virginia just two years later. Shortly after, monuments began to be destroyed, including cemeteries.
A bronze statue of a rebel soldier was decapitated in August 2017 at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Just two days later, the VA partnered with the Westmoreland Protection Agency, to hire unarmed security guards at Camp Chase, North Alton Confederate Cemetery in Alton, Illinois, and Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, New York. The month-long contract cost $91,357.
The next week, someone threw paint on a 117-year-old Confederate memorial at Springfield National Cemetery in Missouri, just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak.
In Sept. 2017, the VA expanded the contract to include four more Confederate cemeteries: Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery in Scotland, Maryland; Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville Township, New Jersey; Confederate Stockade Cemetery in Sandusky, Ohio; and Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.
The tactics could be working because the VA reports no further vandalism since the security began. The agency has not yet determined when the security will end.