Officials in Charlottesville in the U.S. state of Virginia have declared a state of emergency before a large march by white nationalists Saturday, following clashes between them and counter-protesters the previous night.
The move would allow local authorities to bring in additional resources from outside jurisdictions if needed, the police department said. However, the declaration would not stop the event from taking place, which could be one of the largest such rallies in recent U.S. history.
“Local officials continue to closely monitor the situation and will provide additional details as they are available,” the statement said.
Saturday's “Unite the Right” rally, as they call it, is expected to draw from the gamut of far-right extremist groups in the U.S. in response to the expected removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Thousands of white-supremacists, neo-nazis, and “alt-right” supporters from around the United States are expected to descend on the campus of the Charlottesville University of Virginia campus.
The city originally tried to move the rally's permit away from downtown, but an ACLU-backed lawsuit claimed such a move would violate First Amendment rights and was upheld by a federal judge.
The far-right groups have anticipated response from anti-fascists, anti-racists, and Black Lives Matter, and have enlisted the protection of a motorcycle gang for “protection.” Authorities are worried about the potential for violent clashes to occur.
Just last month, a relatively small KKK rally with about three-dozen participants in Charlottesville was greeted by over a thousand anti-fascist counter-demonstrators, 23 of whom were arrested by police after the white-supremacist group dispersed.
A group of several hundred torch-bearing far-right extremists gathered Friday night before Saturday's expected rally. | Photo: Reuters
On Friday evening, the night before the planned rally, a group of several hundred marchers, mostly white men in their 20's and 30's, marched through the University of Virginia carrying lit torches and shouting ethno-nationalist slogans like “you will not replace us!”.
A group of anti-racist counter-protesters who showed up to challenge the spontaneous march were surrounded. Accounts circulated on social media saying that the counter-protesters were beaten.
An organizer for a self-described “Western chauvinist” group participating in the rally said that the rally is about so-called “white genocide,” according to Al-Jazeera.
Black Lives Matter organizers have released a statement calling on supporters to challenge Saturday's rally.
“We invite you to take part and together face this consolidation of hate groups, and the risk of police use of excessive force, with nonviolent direct action,” a Black Lives Matter statement read.
Support for counter-protesters at the rally has rippled through social media. Chelsea Manning tweeted in support with the hashtag #wegotthis.
Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer has called the far-right extremist march a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance,” and said that he is “beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
The Vice Mayor of Charlottesville Wes Bellamy, who is a 30-year-old Black man, has received an influx of death threats from the far-right groups recently. “I've been told I'm going to be hung from a tree, that I'm going to be shot, that I'm going to be beat up,” Bellamy said to Al-Jazeera.
Charlottesville is a relatively small, typical U.S. college town that has in the past year become a focal point of far-right, white-supremacist, and fascist elements in the U.S. after they voted to remove confederate monuments from the city.