ROANOKE, Va. – A rally at Roanoke's Robert E. Lee monument Sunday only drew a handful of supporters.
The "We the People United" rally was organized as a response to the monument being vandalized earlier this month. Someone spray-painted the words "Rest in power Heather Heyer" on the statue. Heyer was killed during last month's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Daniel Highberger organized the demonstration and says he wanted to use the opportunity to focus on unity and acceptance.
Highberger repeatedly insisted that his intent was not to stir up controversy. His plan was to march from the Lee monument to the Martin Luther King monument on Henry Street in an attempt to show unity between people who support the two symbols. But in the end, he received very few supporters.
The small crowd began to gather around 2 p.m. Highberger put his own message on the monument, reading "United we stand".
"A public display of unity, of love, of being accepting of each other despite our differences and to hopefully plant that seed in others that this is possible," said Highberger.
Earlier in the week, Highberger asked the City of Roanoke to grant him a permit to then march through the streets to the King statue, but was denied because the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk was already taking place. WSLS asked him what statement he was trying to make.
"The Lee Monument and the MLK statue are very different symbols. To different people they mean different things. With that being said, if we start here and go there and bring that together, it's unifying. It's just a symbol of unity to show people in Roanoke and at least in our corner of the world that peace is attainable and there's no need for the constant bickering," said Highberger.
Even though they didn't get the permit, Highberger and six others were still able to walk along the sidewalk through downtown Roanoke, carrying a Confederate flag to the King statue.
Other than those few that attended the rally, WSLS saw a few Roanoke police officers keeping a watchful eye on the event, and at one point a group of people arrived who said they did not support Highberger's message. But when they saw how few supporters he had, they didn't feel the need to make a counter statement themselves.