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Car Hits Crowd In a Violent White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville
The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville on Saturday 12, 2017 as white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters for the second day in a row over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. At one point, a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, and city officials reported there was at least one death and multiple injuries.
The city of Charlottesville was engulfed by violence on Saturday as white nationalists and counterprotesters clashed in one of the bloodiest fights to date over the removal of Confederate monuments across the South.
White nationalists had long planned a demonstration over the city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. But the rally quickly exploded into racial taunting, shoving and outright brawling, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency and the National Guard to join the police in clearing the area.
Those skirmishes mostly resulted in cuts and bruises. But after the rally at a city park was dispersed, a car bearing Ohio license plates plowed into a crowd near the city’s downtown mall, killing a 32-year-old woman. Some 34 others were injured, at least 19 in the car crash, according to a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Col. Martin Kumer, the superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, confirmed Saturday evening that an Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, had been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in a death. But the authorities declined to say publicly that Mr. Fields was the driver of the car that plowed into the crowd.
Witnesses to the crash said a gray sports car accelerated into a crowd of counterdemonstrators — who were marching jubilantly near the mall after the white nationalists had left — and hurled at least two people in the air.
Many of these groups have felt emboldened since the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”
Saturday afternoon, President Trump, speaking at the start of a veterans’ event at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., addressed what he described as “the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
In his comments, President Trump condemned the bloody protests, but he did not specifically criticize the white nationalist rally and its neo-Nazi slogans, blaming “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
“It’s been going on for a long time in our country, it’s not Donald Trump, it’s not Barack Obama,” said Mr. Trump, adding that he had been in contact with Virginia officials. After calling for the “swift restoration of law and order,” he offered a plea for unity among Americans of “all races, creeds and colors.”
The president came under criticism from some who said he had not responded strongly enough against racism and that he failed to condemn the white nationalist groups by name who were behind the rally.
The turmoil in Charlottesville began with a march Friday night by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia and escalated Saturday morning as demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue inside the park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Hundreds of counterprotesters — religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fascist groups known as “antifa” — quickly surrounded the park, singing spirituals, chanting and carrying their own signs.
The morning started peacefully, with the white nationalists gathering in McIntire Park, outside downtown, and the counterdemonstrators — including Cornel R. West, the Harvard University professor and political activist — gathering at the First Baptist Church, a historically African-American church here. Professor West, who addressed the group at a sunrise prayer service, said he had come “bearing witness to love and justice in the face of white supremacy.”
At McIntire Park, the white nationalists waved Confederate flags and other banners. One of the participants, who gave his name only as Ted because he said he might want to run for political office some day, said he was from Missouri, and added, “I’m tired of seeing white people pushed around.”
But by 11 a.m., after both sides had made their way to Emancipation Park, the scene had exploded into taunting, shoving and outright brawling. Three people were arrested in connection with the skirmishes.
Barricades encircling the park and separating the two sides began to come down, and the police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air. One of the white nationalists left the park bleeding, his head wrapped in gauze.
Declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, the police had cleared the area before noon, and the Virginia National Guard arrived as officers began arresting some who remained. But fears lingered that the altercation would start again nearby, as demonstrators dispersed in smaller groups.
Within an hour, politicians, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, had condemned the violence.