On March 20, a frantic Facebook post began circulating on Selma, Alabama Facebook pages.
“Have you seen this chair??” the post asked. “STOLEN between 12 noon and 5 pm Friday 3/19 in Broad Daylight from Confederate Circle in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery. Would require 3-4 men to load.”
Over several days, the post was updated to offer ever-greater rewards for the chair’s return. Finally, after offering a $5,000 reward on Monday, the post was updated again.
The chair “is being held for political ransom by a criminal leftist group,” the post now reads. “Steps are being taken in attempt to resolve.”
The chair in question wasn’t an ordinary piece of furniture. It was a stone monument to Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America. And the chair hadn’t simply been stolen—it was being ransomed by a group that is now threatening to turn it into a toilet if a pro-Confederacy group doesn’t agree to its demands, the Montgomery Advertiser first reported.
Until late March, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chair stood in “Confederate Circle,” a controversial section of Selma’s Old Live Oak Cemetery that contains monuments to the short-lived, slave-holding secessionist movement. Among them are monuments dedicated to Davis, and to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader. Forrest’s statue was stolen in 2012, only to be replaced by the group “Friends of Forrest,” a Confederate apologist operation.
Benny Austin, a former spokesperson for Friends of Forrest, was among the first to report the Davis Chair stolen. His March 20 Facebook post speculated that the chair had been taken in broad daylight. Austin did not return requests for comment.
Pictures obtained by AL.com, however, point to a late-night heist a day earlier, on March 19. Those pictures, which appeared to show the $500,000 chair being smuggled out of the cemetery in the dark, were provided by a group calling itself “White Lies Matter.” The group also sent a picture of a ransom note, addressed to the group “United Daughters of the Confederacy,” (UDC) which owns the land around Confederate Circle.
“The Jefferson Davis Chair is in our possession!” the note read. “It is safe and stored in a secure location. We have every intention of returning it unharmed. Hell, we’ll even clean it up for you.”
But, the group said, there was a catch. White Lies Matter claimed to have delivered the letter to the UDC’s headquarters along with a banner bearing a quote from Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army currently living in Cuba after being convicted of murder.
White Lies Matter demanded that banner be displayed above the entrance to UDC headquarters for a full day—or else.
“Failure to surrender to this request by the aforementioned time will result in [sic] chair being carved into a toilet. See enclosed photograph,” the group wrote, alongside a photoshopped image of the chair as a toilet. “Yeah, shit just got real.”
The theft comes as America reassesses its relationship with Confederate monuments. Last week, Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled that the city of Charlottesville could remove its Confederate statues, which have been the subject of a long-running conflict between racial-justice activists and figures on the right. Elsewhere, opponents of those statues have simply vandalized or removed them.
The UDC, which did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment, told AL.com that the theft and ransom demands were “fake news.” But local law enforcement has confirmed the statue’s theft. A police report of the theft describes the statue as being stolen on March 19. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking on the alleged ransom, with “White Lies Matter” indicating the banner need be hung at 1 p.m. Friday to satisfy their demands.
As District Attorney Michael Jackson told AL.com, “This incident is sending Selma back into ‘The Twilight Zone.’”