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White House chief of staff praises Robert E. Lee, expresses sympathy for the Confederacy

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During an interview on the debut edition of Laura Ingraham’s new Fox News show Monday night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and openly expressed sympathy for the Confederate cause.

Asked about a Virginia church’s decision to remove a plaque honoring Lee, Kelly said, “I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.”

“He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days,” Kelly continued. “Now it’s different today.”

Kelly went on to offer an odd analysis of the cause of the Civil War, attributing it to a “lack of an ability to compromise” rather than the Confederacy’s insistence on maintaining the institution of slavery.

“But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s comments about Lee overlook the fact that the general was a traitor who presided over an army that enslaved free blacks during its invasion of Pennsylvania, treated them as property, and forced them to the South. As The Atlantic detailed in “The Myth of the Kindly General Lee,” during the Civil War, Lee — an unrepentant white supremacist — commanded soldiers who massacred black Union troops at the Battle of the Crater in 1864.

Kelly’s sympathetic comments about the Confederacy echo President Trump, who has defended Confederate monuments by commingling the Confederacy’s history with that of the United States.

Kelly’s comment about “men and women of good faith on both sides” is also reminiscent of Trump’s defense of white supremacists following their violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

“You look at both sides — I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said during a news conference following Charlottesville, putting white supremacists on the same moral plane as counter-protesters. “They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group… you had people in that group that were in to protest, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park.”

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