A guard walks past a monument at North Alton Confederate Cemetery in Alton, Ill. The federal government has hired private security firms to guard several Confederate memorials across the U.S in the aftermath of clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters last year.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent millions of dollars paying for private security at several Confederate cemeteries following the the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, the Associated Press reported.
Initiated by the department, the protection for at least eight VA-run cemeteries "was aimed at preventing the kind of damage that befell Confederate memorials across the U.S. in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence," the AP said.
The wire service used records accessed through the Freedom of Information Act.
The Virginia protest, during which counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed, was organized by white supremacist groups opposing the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The ensuing violence amplified calls for the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces and triggered a rash of vandalism against them.
"VA has an obligation to protect the federal property it administers, along with cemetery staff and visitors paying respect to those interred at our sites," VA officials told NPR in an emailed statement.
According to the statement, the department's National Cemetery Administration is responsible for decisions to enhance security for specific sites "based on a variety of factors, including their historical significance, replacement/repair value, and previous vandalism or threats of vandalism at the sites."
While it's unclear exactly what type of threats prompted the protection of the cemeteries, at least two were vandalized before extra security was added. A bronze statue of a rebel soldier at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, was decapitated and knocked over less than two weeks after the Charlottesville melee. About a week after that, and just hours before the arrival of President Trump in Springfield, Mo., a 117-year-old Confederate memorial at the Springfield National Cemetery was covered in paint.
Five other cemeteries are currently receiving round-the-clock protection, according to the AP; North Alton Confederate Cemetery in Alton, Ill.; Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, N.Y.; Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery in Scotland, Md.; Finn's Point National Cemetery in Pennsville Township, N.J.; and Confederate Stockade Cemetery in Sandusky, Ohio. Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago has added security only during daylight hours, the AP reported.
No incidents of vandalism have occurred at any of the cemeteries since the two that followed the Charlottesville violence, the VA told the wire service.
The AP says records show the 24-hour security has been outsourced by VA to a Florida-based company called Westmoreland Protection Agency, which has, in turn, hired The Whitestone Group, an Ohio-based subcontractor, to fulfill at least part of the federal contract.
Attempts by NPR to reach Westmoreland Protection Agency were unsuccessful. As of Tuesday afternoon, the company's voicemail system was full and no longer accepting messages.
Veterans Affairs officials declined to answer NPR's questions about the specific costs of the boosted security at the eight cemeteries, but using from records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act request, the AP concluded the government allocated nearly $3 million since August 2017 and has earmarked another $1.6 million to continue the added surveillance in fiscal year 2019.
"All told, the VA spent about $462,500 on security through Oct. 23, 2017, when it agreed to an annual contract with Westmoreland at a cost of just under $2.3 million," the AP reported.
VA officials told NPR all security funds for its cemeteries come out of the National Cemetery Administration's annual appropriation for Operations and Maintenance.