Leopold II of the Belgians was responsible for the deaths of 10 million Congolese people, historians say.
The removal of a statue of a genocidal colonialist monarch on Tuesday in Belgium has angered Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
In a tweet sharing video of the removal of the statue of King Leopold II of the Belgians in Antwerp, Gaetz said it was an example of progressives trying to expunge the past.
"Left Platform," Gaetz wrote. "Defund Police - Erase History - Disarm You - Lockdown Forever."
Leopold II reigned from 1865 to 1909 and pushed Belgian colonization in Africa, establishing what was first the privately held "Congo Free State" and later the country's colony, Belgian Congo.
Leopold's drive for profits from his private colony, based first on ivory and later on rubber, was accompanied by atrocities inflicted on the colony's inhabitants. Reuters reports that an online petition against the king, signed by at least 64,000 as of Tuesday, says Leopold was responsible for the deaths of more than 10 million Congolese people.
Historian Adam Hochschild, author of "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," notes that in addition to outright murder, the atrocities included enslavement, rape, kidnapping, man-made famines, and the severing of limbs.
The statue of Leopold had been damaged in recent days by Belgians marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protesters reportedly painted it red and set it on fire.
The protests were part of the global response to the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. Floyd died of asphyxiation after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
The officer has been charged with second- and third-degree murder.
Across the United States, protests have also spurred the removal of Confederate memorials and other racist statues. In recent days, monuments have been removed in Philadelphia; in Birmingham, Alabama; and in Alexandria, Virginia.
"The ground is shifting on Confederate monuments as an issue so fast, after so many years of stasis," Jeremy Mayer, associate professor at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, said in an email last week.
But Gaetz and other conservatives have long claimed that removing racist memorials means the erasure or alteration of the past.
"I think we have to speak out against bigotry and hatred in all of its forms," Gaetz said in 2017, opposing the removal of Confederate monuments in Walton County, Florida. "But that doesn't mean we can bleach American history."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.