White nationalists descended Friday night on the University of Virginia campus with burning tiki torches — lending a distinctly but likely unintentional Polynesian aura to a white nationalist group’s march.
Friday’s march unfolded a day ahead of a rally designed to “Unite the Right.” White nationalists and other right-wing groups converged in Charlottesville, Virginia, where city officials have moved to remove symbols of the city’s Confederate past.
Candle-lit marches, rallies and vigils are not uncommon and tend to evoke a sense of solidarity.
But historically in the United States, torch-carrying mobs lit the scene of countless Ku Klux Klan rallies and mob lynchings.
In Charlottesville on Friday night, marchers chanting various white nationalist slogans carried tiki torches, known primarily for their South Pacific ambiance and for their contemporary use of keeping mosquitoes at bay.
Tiki Brand, the company that manufactures the bulk of tiki torches in the US, took to social media over the weekend, saying it was not happy to see its products used as tools for white nationalists and other extremist groups.
“Tiki Brand is not associated in any way with the events that took place in Charlottesville and are deeply saddened and disappointed,” the company said in a Facebook post. “We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way. Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”
Trash bins stuffed with tiki torches
The bamboo-wrapped beacons are decidedly nonwhite, having roots in Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures — a fact that white-nationalist marchers might not have meant to highlight. Tiki torches made their entrance in the US in the early 1900s in Hawaiian-themed restaurants. According to Tiki Brand, the torches “gained more popularity in the 1950s, when Pacific Island-themed restaurants, bars and even living rooms were all the rage. ”
Outrage on social media over the Friday night tiki-torch march quickly turned to mockery as users pointed out the irony of the tiki-lit demonstration.
Even Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah got in on the ribbing.
“It’s unclear why the white supremacist used tiki torches, given their opposition to non-European Caucasian,” he tweeted. He also posted a reference to the torches’ mosquito-repellant fuel, saying marchers’ tiki torches “may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate & have no place in civil society.”
“Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler did not immediately respond to CNN’s questions about Friday’s march.
After the march, trash cans around campus were stuffed full of the discarded items.