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Student shown in viral photo of white supremacist rally speaks out

Charlottesville victims speak

RENO, Nev. -- A self-proclaimed white nationalist who attends the University of Nevada, Reno, was among the thousands who gathered to protest in the streets of Virginia over the weekend.

CBS affiliate KTVN-TV reports 20-year-old Peter Cvjetanovic, who's studying history and political science at the university, traveled to Charlottesville on Saturday to march in the "Unite the Right" rally, which was organized in response to the city's ordered removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. 

"I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture," Cvjetanovic told KTVN-TV. "It is not perfect. There are flaws to it, of course. However, I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the U.S. and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E. Lee is a great example of that. He wasn't a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time." 

Cvjetanovic was subsequently denounced as a racist. A photo of him protesting during the rally has gone viral on social media. 

You may have seen this photo circulating around the internet of a UNR student taking part in today's deadly Charlottesville protests. We reached out to him, here's what he had to say:

Posted by KTVN Channel 2 News on Saturday, August 12, 2017

"I did not expect the photo to be shared as much as it was," he said. "I understand the photo has a very negative connotation. But I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I'm not the angry racist they see in that photo." 

Cvjetanovic defended his beliefs by saying, "White nationalists aren't all hateful. We just want to preserve what we have."  

"As a white nationalist, I care for all people," he said. "We deserve a future for our children and for our culture." 

On Sunday, university president Marc Johnson released a written statement that reads in part: "As an institution, we remain firm in our commitment in denouncing all forms of bigotry and racism, which have no place in a free and equal society."

"Racism and white supremacist movements have a corrosive effect on our society," Johnson said. "These movements do not represent our values as a university. We denounce any movement that targets individuals due to the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientation, ability/disability, or whether they were born in our country."

Honoring victims of Charlottesville violence

According to Johnson, the university will "maintain a commitment to the safe, peaceful expression and exchange of ideas" on campus. 

A petition calling for Cvjetanovic's expulsion from the university is currently circulating online.  

"I do not think they have the right to expel me from a public university," he told KTVN-TV, in response to the petition. "I went to a legal political rally to express my freedom of speech. I committed no acts of violence and dispersed when told that the rally had become illegal. If UNR does expel me, then it is a clear violation of my First Amendment."