April 30 (UPI) -- A Charlottesville, Va., judge has ruled that two statues of Confederate generals that sparked a violent protest in 2017 are war monuments and cannot be removed under state law.
Circuit Judge Richard Moore said in a letter dated April 25 that it was clear that the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson were created to be war memorials. He said that the Charlottesville city council violated state law in 2016 when it voted to remove them.
The Unite the Right rally in August 2017 was partially organized because of the effort to remove the statues in light of a wider movement to take down or move Confederate statues and monuments around the country. That rally turned violent with one counter-protester dying after she and others were hit by a vehicle driven by a white supremacist.
"I find this conclusion inescapable," Moore wrote. "It is the very season the statues have been complained about from the beginning. It does no good pretending they are something other than what they actually are."
The Monument Fund in Charlottesville filed a lawsuit in March 2017, claiming that the city council violated state law in its attempt to remove the Lee statue. The lawsuit was later amended to include Jackson's statue.
Charles "Buddy" Weber, a plaintiff, declined to comment on the ruling beyond telling the Charlottesville Progress that it speaks for itself.
Don Gathers, former chairman of Charlottesville Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, said he was disappointed with the decision.
"Just because something is legal, doesn't mean it's right or it's moral," Gathers told CNN. "I'm fearful what this has done is given the vile evilness that descended upon us in August of 2017 to come back."
Moore said that there are still several outstanding issues that he has not ruled on yet, such as if city council members could be held liable for damages and legal fees because of their efforts to remove the statues, whether there should be a jury trial and the appliance of an equal protection defense.
"While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time (much like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, or even Oliver Cromwell or Dietrich Bonhoeffer), and do not think of white supremacy at all and certainly do not believe in, accept, or agree with such," Moore wrote.