He’s a retired U.S. Marine turned IT professional, a resident of Arlington, and a father who shares the same name with his forefathers.
He’s Robert E. Lee, 50, a man very much alive, who says it’s "getting more interesting all the time" to share the name of the Confederate general in 2017.
“I understand why people react to that name,” Lee said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s a dark time in our past, and the fact that people are talking about it and reacting to that name makes sense to me.”
Lee’s friends just call him Rob, not Robert, and his middle name is traced back to Irish heritage, rather than Confederate lineage.
“We’re Irish, so Robert Emmet is the Irish patriot that I’m named after,” Lee said. “But my dad is named after the general, Robert Edward Lee.”
Within a 30-mile radius of Arlington House, Lee’s hilltop mansion that would become the center of Arlington National Cemetery, public records show there are at least 91 current or recent residents named Robert E. Lee in Virginia.
The 50-year-old Lee said he doesn’t have any haters, and hasn’t received any vitriol after the clashes between white-nationalists and counter protesters in Charlottesville. But he does have family members who expect him to come to the defense of Lee’s legacy and statues in public squares.
“They think I’m going to join in and disparage what’s going on or be on their side because I have that name,” Lee said. “They’re always a little bit surprised when I’m not there with them on it.”
Lee shares a similar viewpoint with Robert E. Lee V, the Washington, D.C. resident and great-great grandson of the Confederate general.
Both men believe the people of each municipality should be left to decide the fate of Confederate monuments, rather than leaving the issue up to demonstrators who flock to flashpoints from hundreds of miles away.
"If the monuments are creating this sort of decisiveness, then it's time to take them down," the general's ancestor said in an Aug. 17 interview with WUSA9.
“Unless it’s some historical artifact,” Rob Emmet Lee added Wednesday. “If we’re talking about a stone that marks a battle somewhere, that’s different.”
But amid all the noise, fear and furor, the Arlington father of two encourages people to talk to him, and talk with each other – not at each other, and certainly not from behind police lines or behind the anonymity of the Internet.
“I’m always trying to engage because I want to have these conversations,” Lee said.
“A name is a name. My goal is to really understand each other’s perspectives and really bring the tension down a little bit, for the good of the country, for the good of us all.”