State Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman wrote a letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper defending Confederate statues.
In the letter, published Aug. 31 in the Ripon Commonwealth Press, Zimmerman chastised “black-hooded, bandana-clad thugs who call themselves anti-fascists” for trying to “sanitize our history” by calling for the removal of monuments and statues of Confederate figures.
“Blacks and whites who were never slaves are fighting whites and others who were never Nazis over statues, monuments and places honoring prominent American historical figures that have been around for two centuries with little concern,” Zimmerman wrote.
DVA spokeswoman Carla Vigue confirmed that Zimmerman wrote the letter and said, “His message was intended to encourage us to reject hateful ideologies and find commonalities that unite us all.”
Zimmerman was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker Feb. 2. He is a retired Army officer and was the leader of an effort to build a National Republican Party History Museum in Ripon, which is known as the birthplace of the Republican party.
The letter was printed about three weeks after the protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, of the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee. One person died and more than a dozen were injured when the driver of a car deliberately plowed into counter-protesters.
The protests gained national attention amid activists’ calls around the country for the removal of Confederate statues and monuments.
Many of the monuments were erected decades after the Civil War, from 1900 and well into the 1920s, while racist policies made segregation the law, or in the 1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Zimmerman quoted Harvard College philosopher George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Zimmerman said the phrase, which is inscribed at the Auschwitz death camp from the Holocaust, would be too controversial at an American site.
“As Americans, we need to etch those words in our psyches because if we dare place such common sense on a monument as a reminder, surely someone will find it offensive,” Zimmerman wrote.
Zimmerman wrote that “social justice warriors” are intimidating others to impose their ideology on America.
He also wrote that Civil War monuments are “symbols that remind us of the past perils caused by indoctrination and intimidation.”
Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, called Zimmerman’s views “indefensible” and said he should be removed from office.
Ross criticized a “culture of intolerance” in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, pointing to Walker’s response to President Donald Trump’s claim that blame lay with multiple sides at the Charlottesville protests.
“Gov. Walker refused point blank to condemn Donald Trump’s ‘many sides’ declaration after Charlottesville when asked by the Wisconsin media and in doing so provided an apparent safe space for members of his team to publicly declare similar abhorrent views,” Ross said.
Walker’s office did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
In the weeks after the Charlottesville protest, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin ordered the removal of a Confederate monument at the Forest Hill Cemetery’s Confederate Rest section that described the 140 people buried there as “valiant Confederate soldiers” and “unsung heroes.” The fate of another monument is being decided by the City Council.
The monument that was removed was installed in 1981, and the other was placed around 1931.
Soglin called the older memorial a “historical lie.”
The Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery died at Camp Randall as prisoners of war.
Zimmerman replaced former-Secretary John Scocos, who resigned in January after months of controversy surrounding the care for residents at the veterans nursing home in King.