Aug 13, 2017, 12:00 PM ET

White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia sparks violent clashes, turns deadly

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The usually quiet university city of Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted into chaos Saturday when far-right extremists gathering for a "Unite the Right" event clashed with counterprotesters, leaving more than a dozen injured and several under arrest.

The day turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and leaving 19 others injured, five critically. The driver was charged with murder in the afternoon incident that a bystander described as "the most horrible thing I've ever witnessed."

And two state troopers who were part of the response to the events in Charlottesville died when their helicopter crashed several miles outside the city.

The gathering in the morning of white nationalists was roundly condemned and a number of politicians called for the car-ramming of the crowd to be called a terror attack. But President Trump drew scrutiny for issuing what some viewed as an equivocating statement that there was "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."

In the wake of early, violent clashes between white nationalist rallygoers and counterprotesters, Virginia state authorities around midday declared the gathering unlawful and ordered both sides to "disperse immediately."

The Virginia State Police posted videos on Facebook of officers breaking up the "Unite the Right" gathering and counterprotest. Warning: The videos contain some offensive language and images.

One video shows an officer in announcing to milling crowds: "This gathering has been declared as to be an unlawful assembly; in the name of the Commonwealth, you are commanded to immediately disperse; if you do not disperse immediately you will be arrested.” Another video shows some of the crowd.

PHOTO:
SLIDESHOW: White nationalists and counterprotesters clash in Charlottesville

Charlottesville police reported Saturday evening that 14 people had been injured in the clashes and that more than a dozen others were injure in the vehicle ramming incident that left a woman dead in the city's downtown. Police charged James Alex Fields, 20, of Ohio Saturday night with second degree murder related to the death.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe referenced two additional fatalities during a Saturday press conference, but did not elaborate on the nature of the deaths. President Donald Trump tweeted condolences "to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today" shortly after.

Saturday evening, the state police announced three additional arrests in relation to the planned rally, issuing charges of disorderly conduct, misdemeanor assault and battery, and carrying a concealed handgun to three individuals, respectively.

The individuals were Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Virginia, arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and battery; James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, arrested and charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

The attempted rally and clashes came after a Friday night march by torch-bearing white nationalists on and near the University of Virginia campus, which resulted in brawls with protesters countering the event.

The Unite the Right event Saturday was supposed to begin at noon, but people both in support and opposed to the rally began gathering earlier and by 11 a.m. two people had been treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries after an altercation at the city's Emancipation Park, according to city officials.

PHOTO: A white supremacist carries the Confederate flag as he walks past counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Joshua Roberts/Reuters
A white supremacist carries the Confederate flag as he walks past counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.

McAuliffe placed the National Guard on standby in preparation for the rally, an action he took even before the clashes Friday night.

PHOTO: Virginia State Troopers stand under a statue of Robert E. Lee before a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Virginia State Troopers stand under a statue of Robert E. Lee before a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.

On Saturday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a statement condemning the violence.

"I have been in contact with our Department of Justice agents assisting at the scene and state officials," Sessions said. "We will continue to support our state and local officers on the ground in any way possible. We stand united behind the President in condemning the violence in Charlottesville and any message of hate and intolerance. This kind of violence is totally contrary to American values and can never be tolerated. I want to thank all law enforcement personnel in the area for their commitment to protecting this community and the rule of law."

Charlottesville has become a flash point for white nationalists and protesters seeking to counter them since a city council vote in February to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park formerly called Lee Park but renamed in June as Emancipation Park.

PHOTO: White nationalists carry torches around a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters
White nationalists carry torches around a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017.

A group opposed to the council's decision sued, and in May a judge issued a six-month injunction against the city's removing the statue while litigation proceeds.

On Friday night, hundreds of white nationalists carrying torches and chanting "white lives matter," "you will not replace us," and the Nazi-associated phrase "blood and soil" marched near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and were met by counterprotesters.

Police arrived on campus, declared it an unlawful assembly, and ordered the crowds to disperse. University police arrested one person who was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, a university statement Saturday said. "Several other members of the university community sustained minor injuries during the confrontation."

McAuliffe was direct Saturday night in his condemnation of those who arrived to attend the rally Saturday, telling the group to "go home."

"You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you," he said. "You pretend that you're patriots, but you are anything but a patriot."

University President Teresa A. Sullivan, "strongly condemned the demonstration," the statement said, adding that the "intimidating and abhorrent behavior displayed by the alt-right protesters was wrong."

PHOTO: White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters
White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the event "a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance," adding that he was "beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus."

A mass prayer service was held at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on University Avenue that was organized in response to the rally, according to The Daily Progress, a local paper.

Cornel West, a prominent leftist philosopher and political activist, spoke at the prayer service, calling the "Unite the Right" rally the “biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last 30 to 35 years,” the Daily Progress reported.

A similar rally in which white supremacists carried tiki torches to protest the removal of that and other statues of Confederate leaders throughout the South took place in May.

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  • Nunya

    All this over a statue.......
    smh

  • Ray Brown

    Despite what many may think, freedom of speech on both sides is still a right. We, as a society, have a problem when the protestors apparently were correct in that they needed to show up in tactical gear to protect that right. When the police showed up, everyone should have orderly dispersed. The driver of the car, absent any mitigating evidences, is a cold blooded killer and should be treated in that manner. If you attend a demonstration or are part of a counter-demonstration, unfortunately, it seems that you must now be ready to fight or die for what you believe. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Thomas Jefferson. (You choose which is which.)

    With regard to historical statues, political correctness should never be allowed to revise history. Leave the statues as much as symbols to learn from the errors of our forefathers, as we do with other statues which trumpet their successes. What a country this would be if we only allowed historical objects currently in political favor. Kind of reminds me of a certain country that many revile for what they have done in the past century, and which many perceive as meddling even in our own political system.

  • Ginger D. McFayden

    The most horrific "accident" I've seen done with a vehicle! Unbelievable what extents some people will go to prove their loyalty! Event on the stage reminiscent of Charlotte. Raising the stakes for a race war!

  • Dajibaski

    History repeats itself

  • William

    Plz stop take away my hertiage the confederate statues are not all bout slavery. They where men who fought for there believes for there states. There not Nazi or communist. They where men who fought for a ideal of a free confederate states.wrong or not they where Americans Yall have no rite or authority to take them down

  • William

    Let everybody know I am from heart of Dixie born and raised.Trump is side show he make America eat its self from inside out

  • William

    They have know ideal what there even talk about Nazi. They need history lesson all Yall do

  • YellowParrott

    Just like some the "other" rallies, right abenews?

  • NCOretired

    I hope all those white young men in their military gear are as good at joining the military. Trump could use you and they all look draftable to me. Show us what you really got. But be warned running away is not an option

  • IndependentforFreedom

    "Trump's People"

  • Cornelia Beaverhausen

    Make no mistake...these people are Trump supporters, and visa versa.

  • Risbo Lensky

    3 dead and tens of injured...Americans should be worried

  • Justbkind16

    Did this really happen in the US today? Absolutely disgusting behaviour born of hatred, intolerance and ignorance. May the three victims who lost their lives rest in peace and Godspeed to all the victims who were injured.

  • Lisa Montez

    It's very sad that ignorant people have been talked into getting rid of their own history. Razing statues is something that invading armies do to subjugate a country's population. And these Americans have been told that it's a good thing to erase their own history. We must never forget that once there was a portion of this country that disagreed with the federal government and fought against their tyranny and almost won. This whole scenario makes me sick.

  • ChrisSnyder60

    The best thing is when that statue of Robert E. Lee is gone, it will put an end to ALL shootings between young black men in our urban areas, cops will be able to stay out of those areas, and BLM can disband. Then we'll have a better opinion of these urban guys and all will live happily ever after. It's similar to yanking all references to climate change from the White House website. It's easy to deal with major issues.

  • ChrisSnyder60

    This is what happens when Trump doesn't show up at one of his rallies.

  • Jerry Curlan

    Someone really needs to make an oil painting of that scene of the protesters with the torches at night. It's an amazing photo. It's so hideous it's almost beautiful

  • science_fan

    Sad to believe we still have such bold racism alive. It's 2017.