The group had threatened to do just that unless the United Daughters of the Confederacy displayed a banner with a quote from a Black radical on its Richmond, Va., headquarters on Friday.
In an interview with The Washington Post, an anonymous spokesman for the group said the UDC can expect to learn where its stolen chair is on Thursday.
“We have every intention of giving the chair back,” the spokesman said late Wednesday. “You know, we already cleaned it, we already got all the moss off of it, took a bunch of brushes to it, made it nice and pretty.”
The spokesman, who spoke with a Southern accent that he later admitted was fake, said the group decided to move up the date of the toilet conversion after it became clear the UDC wasn’t going to comply with its demands.
They stole the chair from the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Ala., on March 19, according to authorities, who are investigating the theft.
The UDC has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
In a 20-minute phone call, the spokesman said White Lies Matter is a diffuse anti-racist group with no “head honcho,” that they found out about the chair from a book they purchased at a Lost Cause memorabilia store, and that while they hope to do other actions like this, there is a line they won’t cross.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
So my first question is why did you decide to do this?
Are you asking why did we decide to turn it into a toilet, or why did—
Why did you decide to steal the chair and turn it into a toilet?
UDC has a complicated history in this country, and we’ve been looking at them for quite some time. And of course last summer, everything that happened with George Floyd reignited this conversation about Confederate monuments in America. And one thing we really wanted to do, to highlight, is that groups like the UDC and people with the same ideology and beliefs, they tend to care more about things than people. If you look at the Black Lives Matter movement, if you look at the civil rights movement, if you look at any time in history in the South particularly, when people are putting their lives on the line, there are always these groups like the UDC, and just normal civilians from the South, they have a tendency to pick objects … over that of human life and over the needs of human beings, whether it’s the right to vote, or the right to have your neck not kneeled on for nine minutes.
So this particular piece was interesting because a lot of monuments are relatively new. The UDC has put things up in recent memory, you know, within our generation. The Nathan Bedford Forrest bust is a prime example; same cemetery, same group, a few years ago it was taken. And they just made another one, no big deal. Asked for some money to find the people who did it, couldn’t find the people, made another one.
This [chair] is one of one. So this really gave us an opportunity to create conversation, because they can’t just make another hundred-twenty-some-odd-year-old chair. And it gave us a bit of leverage, so we chose that object specifically. And damn near broke our backs [laughter], but you know, it played out exactly as we had anticipated. And I should say at this point, given the recent developments, we weren’t at all surprised at their response.
How many of you are there?
In total, I mean, the group is pretty well-stacked. We represent part of the Southern chapter here, but we have quite a few people across the country. It’s an anti-racist action group, so you can imagine, there’s people from all over that we’ve worked with.
Now, are y’all mostly White people?
And are you the man in the photos?
Who’s the man in the photos? Seems like he could get caught with his face out there like that.
He’s a brave soul! He’s a brave soul, a gentleman we work with, and he was willing to don the old Union uniform and have a little fun. … We have every intention of giving the chair back. You know, we already cleaned it, we already got all the moss off of it, took a bunch of brushes to it, made it nice and pretty.
How are you going to return it? I mean, I’m assuming there’s police at the cemetery now, are you going to return it somewhere else?
Yes, absolutely. What we’re doing right now is that our team that is actually in possession of the chair is driving it to a secure location, and they [the UDC] are obviously not answering their phones this late at night, so … we’re just going to place a call and tell them right where it’s at. And they’re more than welcome to go get it, and we’ll be far away when they do. [laughter]
Can I make a guess of where you’re going to put it?
You’re more than welcome to.
I think y’all are going to put it in front of the headquarters of the UDC.
Yeah that’s true. I guess they’ve got security all figured out.
They absolutely do, and we have seen it firsthand. We’re not going anywhere near that building!
How many people did it take to steal it?
I don’t— That’s an incriminating question. [laughter]
I assure you it was a number of people. I couldn’t tell you how much it weighs, it is pure stone. Easily over 300 pounds. I’ve done some refrigerator-moving before in my time, and I mean this was worse than that. So yeah, it took a good number of people.
Did you get the idea to steal a Confederate monument first and then figure out a good target was the chair? Or the other way around, like, ‘Oh there’s this Confederate chair that’s not being surveilled like everywhere else, what could we do?’
Right. The idea came first. We had actually gone to this Confederate store in Alabama — you know, they sell all the bull—-, the Lost Cause books and whatever — and we were looking in the books and they had Confederate monument books, and they were essentially doing our work for us.
So we were just kind of flipping through the pages. And we always had this idea, but you know, you’re not going to Richmond and taking the Robert E. Lee statue.
And we absolutely don’t believe in taking a tombstone or doing anything like that.
So you’re not going to do any grave-robbing—
—Because Edmund Pettus’s grave is right there near the chair [in Selma], but y’all didn’t touch it.
We’re well aware of that, yes. There’s a lot of other very small— I mean, for instance, Stonewall Jackson, there’s the tombstone where they buried his arm out in Virginia, you know, things like that. A lot of things, but it’s about getting votes, and what I mean by that is a lot of people in this country feel very strongly about their religion, and there’s a clear distinction between a memorial and a grave. If you take a grave and stoop to a level, it’s going to be real hard to make that argument with people who believe in Jesus … so when we found that chair, it was just perfect, because it looked like something that belonged somewhere other than sitting in the dirt and having birds defecate on it. I mean, it’s in bad shape, it’s been sitting in the dirt under a tree, and there’s hardly any record of it online, but when you’re up close and personal, it’s a beautiful work of art.
I have another question. The weekend that y’all stole it was the weekend of the Selma Pilgrimage, where there’s all the women in hoop skirts and the plantation houses and all that. Was it on purpose that you did it that weekend? Or is that just God having a sense of humor?
It was God having a sense of humor. It was a forehead-slapping moment for us. We made off with it, we didn’t even know, you know we don’t pay attention to the theatrics down there with things like that. And yeah, we just saw it this week in the news, and thought, ‘Well damn, [laughter] that was a close call for sure.’
Do you have anything else that you found in that book that doesn’t have security around it?
You know, as of right now we are going to put all of our resources and efforts into closing this chapter out. This was a big one, and you know, just candidly speaking, the show is not over. We’ve still got a lot of hoops to jump through. We’re dealing with an extremely obstinate, prideful group—
So you’re going to stay focused on targeting the UDC specifically?
What I mean is, yes, right now with this particular chair, but it doesn’t mean the next piece is going to belong to them, because you’ve got the Sons of Confederate Veterans too, and they’ve got their own stuff. We aren’t actively looking for a new piece, this took a lot out of us. This was a lot of time, a lot of resources. So, you know, it is not time to move on until this dust is settled.
I know you want to protect your identity, but what can I say about y’all, about where you developed from, how many of you there are, what can you tell me?
We are leaderless in a sense. There is no head honcho, and we keep it that way for a very good reason. So there are plenty of other opportunities for men and women in this group to act independently, do their own projects where they see fit. This particular one I’ve been working the press on and just trying to keep everyone safe. This was a group that was formed years ago here in the South and like I mentioned earlier, we just kind of tap people as we see fit. You know, if we see an opportunity down in Florida, we’ve got people down there—
Can I ask you one more thing?
Is your accent real or is it to obfuscate who you are?
Yeah, I typically never speak on the record and do audio, but The Washington Post is a different beast.
Well, I appreciate y’all calling us. Is there anything else you would like to me to know?
We’re just kind of waiting to see how this plays out. We’re trying to get to the finish line … It’s time to wrap it up, and like I said, we expedited it. Would have loved to have waited for [April] 9th, that date obviously had serious significance [The day Robert E. Lee surrendered], it was chosen for an obvious reason, but with everything going on, we felt it more prudent to move sooner, and we’re a little more limber this way. So I suppose it’s to be continued at this point.