What started out as a protest against the removal of a pro-slavery, confederal general statue in Virginia it soon blew up and resulted in violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters on Saturday. At least one person was killed and 30 others were injured in the clashes after a vehicle rammed into a group of protesters marching peacefully. A state of emergency has been declared and security forces have been deployed in the city.
Initial unrest: Nazi slogans during Friday’s march
A day earlier, white nationalists marched with lit torches through the University of Virginia to protest against the plans to remove Robert E Lee’s statue from a Charlottesville park. CNN reported that during Friday’s march, protesters could be heard shouting pro-Nazi philosophy like “blood and soil.” The Nazi ideology”Blut und Boden” stated that ethnic identity was based on only blood line and the territory in which an individual lives. In a video shared by American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, protesters can be heard shouting ‘blood and soil’ slogans during Saturday’s protest as well. Vox reported that Nazi slogans like “Seig Heil” and “You will not replace us” were also heard during Friday’s march.
Earlier this year, Charlottesville had voted to remove a statue of Lee. To protest the decision, a torch-wielding group, including prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest in May. A month later, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled to Charlottesville for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.
‘Unite the Right’ rally
Friday’s march was more like a curtain-raiser to Saturday’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally which saw hundreds of protesters taking the streets of Charlottesville to largely protest against the removal of Lee’s statue. Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for a “pro-white” rally and white supremacists extensively promoted the gathering. He had said that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols and also about free speech and “advocating for white people.’ “This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
Reports suggest Unite the Right rally was one of the biggest gathering of white nationalists in over a decade. A small group of people gathered to protest against Unite the Right rally alleging racism. Soon both groups attacked each other, violently throwing punches, hurling water bottles and pepper sprays. Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said “white power” groups like neo-Nazis and factions of the Ku Klux Klan were present during the rally. Some of the protesters were heard chanting “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us,” The New York Times reported.
Deaths and injuries
Two hours after clashes broke out between the two groups, a car rammed into the peaceful protesters killing one and injuring at least a dozen others. Police said a 32-year-old woman was killed after the 20-year-old suspect James Alex Fields plowed the car into a crowd of people. Speaking to AP, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, Matt Korbon, said counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A car smashed into another, backed up and then plowed through “a sea of people.” The driver of the car has now been apprehended for one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit-and-run attended failure to stop with injury.
Governor Terry McAuliffe blamed neo-Nazis for sparking the unrest in Charlottesville. “I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: go home,” the Democrat was quoted as saying by Reuters. “You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you,” he said.
Donald Trump condemns violence, shies away from calling out white nationalist groups
US President Donald Trump, who has enjoyed backing of alt-right leaders and white nationalists, condemned the incident on Saturday while choosing to refrain from making any comments against the far right groups. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said during a short statement from New Jersey where he is on a “work-vacation.” He added: “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
Later in a series of messages posted on Twitter, Trump wrote: “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST. We will continue to follow developments in Charlottesville, and will provide whatever assistance is needed. We are ready, willing and able.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said racial bigotry, hatred ‘cannot be tolerated’.