On Friday night in Ohio, President Donald Trump praised a famous Confederate general, calling him a "true great fighter and a great general" — the president's latest controversial statement about the Civil War. On Saturday, though, Robert E. Lee's collateral descendant responded to Trump and called out the president for supporting "an idol of white supremacy and hatred."
The response came less than a day later via a Twitter video from Lee's great-great-great-great nephew, Robert Lee IV, an ordained minister living in North Carolina. A collateral descendant means he's not a direct descendant of the general but rather is related to him through one of the general's siblings. Here's what Lee said:
Last night I was disheartened to hear Donald Trump, our president, make comments about Robert E. Lee as a great general, as an honorable man. These were far from the truth. Yet again the president is lying and showing us his true colors. He is showing us that he supports an idol of white supremacy and of hatred. Robert E. Lee fought for the continued enslavement of black bodies. It was for state’s rights, yes, but it was for state’s rights to own slaves.
On Friday, Trump recognized some famous Ohioans in a speech in Lebanon, Ohio. One of the people he talked about was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who was a Union general during the Civil War, and originally from Ohio. But in introducing Grant, Trump heaped praise upon another Civil War general from the Confederacy: Lee.
"So Robert E. Lee was a great general and Abraham Lincoln developed a phobia, he couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee," Trump told the crowd. "He was going crazy. I don’t know if you know this story, but Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle and Abraham Lincoln came home and he said, 'I can’t beat Robert E. Lee.'" Trump went on to say how Grant beat him and was, of course, from Ohio.
This is not the first time the president has spoken fondly of Confederate generals. In the past Trump has lamented the destruction of Civil War monuments. "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," Trump tweeted in August 2017, just days after Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia. "You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"
This is not the first time that Lee has spoken out about the president, either. He was invited to speak at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards following the death of Heyer and the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. "Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on," he said at the time, lifting up the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women's March, too.
In Saturday's video, Lee continued to say he was "saddened by the state of our nation" but ended on a positive note. "I’m encouraged because we are going to work to end this," Lee said. "We are going to vote. We are going to show Donald Trump that white supremacy has no place in any parlors of our government. We are going to show him who the people are and what really matters in this nation."
Lee encouraged participation in the midterm elections, which will take place Nov. 6.