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One dead, 26 hurt
CHARLOTTESVILLE—A car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in a Virginia college town yesterday, killing one person, sending at least 26 others to hospitals and ratcheting up tension in an increasingly violent confrontation.
The chaos boiled over at what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade: the governor declared a state of emergency, police dressed in riot gear ordered people out and helicopters circled overhead. The group had gathered to protest plans to remove a statue of the Confederate Gen Robert E Lee, and others who arrived to protest the racism.
Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said several hundred counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tyre screeching sound.” A silver Dodge Challenger smashed into another car, then backed up, barrelling through “a sea of people.”
The impact hurled people into the air. Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety. The driver was later arrested. The turbulence began Friday night, when the white nationalists carried torches though the university campus in what they billed as a “pro-white” demonstration. It quickly spiralled into violence yesterday morning. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. At least eight were injured and one arrested in connection.
President Donald Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” after the clashes. He called for “a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
Trump said he spoke with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and “we agreed that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now.”
But some of the white nationalists cited Trump’s victory as validation for their beliefs, and Trump’s critics pointed to the president’s racially tinged rhetoric as exploiting the nation’s festering racial tension. The Rev Jesse Jackson noted that Trump for years publicly questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship.
“We are in a very dangerous place right now,” he said. Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally in Charlottesville. White nationalists and their opponents promoted the event for weeks.
Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organisations, racist skinhead groups and Ku Klux Klan factions.
The white nationalist organisations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the National Socialist Movement; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said, along with several groups with a smaller presence.
On the other side, anti-fascist demonstrators also gathered in Charlottesville, but they generally aren’t organised like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The statue’s removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville’s history of race is told. For now, the Lee statue remains. A judge has agreed to temporarily block the city from removing the statue for six months. (AP)