Authorities in Charlottesville, Va., were investigating a day after a rally of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and Ku Klux Klan members erupted into deadly violence, including a car that rammed into a march of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
The white nationalists, whose “Unite the Right” rally promised to “take America back,” had gathered to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park.
Two Virginia state troopers en route to the crash scene in a helicopter were also killed when their chopper crashed, police said.
For hours on Saturday, white nationalists — some helmeted and carrying shields and Confederate flags — clashed with counterprotesters, some wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts. Hundreds of people threw punches and beat each other with sticks, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical spray, according to The Associated Press.
White nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
Deadly car attack
At one point, a car sped forward through a march of counterprotesters, mowing down people, including one woman who was killed. She has not been named by authorities. The impact threw people into the air and more than a dozen were injured. The driver, later identified as James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who had moved to Ohio from Kentucky, was taken into custody and has been charged with second-degree murder.
The Associated Press, who spoke to the driver’s mother, quotes her as saying that she didn’t know her son was going to a white supremacist rally.
“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” Bloom told the AP. The news agency says Bloom became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally.
Late Saturday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that federal authorities will pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.
President Trump on Saturday responded to the violence, condemning “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” adding “On many sides.”
“It’s been going on for a long time in our country,” the president said. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”
Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who declared a state of emergency following the unrest, is expected to visit Charlottesville today. After the violence on Saturday, McAuliffe, called on the protesters to leave his state.
“Our message is plain and simple — go home,” he said. “You are not wanted in this great Commonwealth. Shame on you! You pretend that you’re patriots – but you are anything but a patriot.”
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, a Democrat, blamed the violence on a poisoned political discourse in the country.
“There is a very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics that we’ve all seen too much of today,” Signer said at a press conference. “Our opponents have become our enemies, debate has become intimidation.”
Speaking to Weekend All Things Considered, the city’s vice mayor, Wes Bellamy, blamed the white nationalists who he said wanted “invoke terror.”
“As many of you are aware, we’re entrenched in a battle to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. But what you’re seeing is bigger than a statue,” Bellamy told our reporters “What you’re seeing are outside groups and people – some who live here, but most of them do not live here – believe that they can come take over our town. And our city, our community, our area is better than that.”