White nationalist rally prompts Virginia governor to declare state of emergency

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Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. At least one person was arrested.
 
Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and police dressed in riot gear ordered people at the rally in Charlottesville to disperse after chaotic clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  
 
Small bands of protesters who showed up to express their opposition to the rally were seen marching around the city peacefully by midafternoon, chanting and waving flags. Helicopters circled overhead.  As of 12:30 p.m., a city spokeswoman said a single arrest was reported. Emergency medical personnel have responded to eight injuries related to the event.
 
President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that "we ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for." He then wrote "There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"
 
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 organizations, racist skinhead groups and Ku Klux Klan factions.
 
"We anticipated this event being the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade," Segal said. "Unfortunately, it appears to have become the most violent as well."
 
The white nationalist organizations 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 organized like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  
 
Many others were just locals caught in the fray. 
 
Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home. 
 
Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend. 
 
"This isn't how he should have to grow up," she said.
 
Cliff Erickson leaned against a fence and took in the scene. He said he thinks removing the statue amounts to erasing history and said the "counter-protesters are crazier than the alt-right."
 
"Both sides are hoping for a confrontation," he said. 
 
It's the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city about 100 miles outside of Washington, D.C., voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Lee.
 
In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters. 
 
Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but 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 said in an interview. 
 
Between rally attendees and counter-protesters, authorities were expecting as many as 6,000 people, Charlottesville police said this week. 
 
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices.
 
"I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president," he said.
 
Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a liberal-leaning city that's home to the flagship University of Virginia and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. 
 
The statue's removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville's history of race is told in public spaces. The city has also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named for Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. They're now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively. 
 
For now, the Lee statue remains. A group called the Monument Fund filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials. A judge has agreed to temporarily block the city from removing the statue for six months.

 

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