With a state of emergency declared after a night of unrest, far right violence in Charlottesville, Virginia escalated as a sports car rammed into a crowd in the city’s downtown area, killing one and injuring at least 19 others.
As white nationalists gathered in the city for a “Unite the Right” rally, thousands of people showed up to counter the demonstration, which included many Black Lives Matter activists, anti-fascist groups known as the “antifa”, as well as leftist student movements.
In the middle of the confrontations — that had spilled over from Friday night — according to the University of Virginia Medical Center, a gray sports car plowed through the crowd, mowing down several people as it hurled at least two into the air.
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas told a news conference that a 32-year-old woman was killed while walking across the street and some people suffered life-threatening injuries.
Thomas also said a male suspect is in custody and officers were treating the incident as a homicide investigation.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Robert Armengol, who was at the scene reporting for a podcast he hosts at the University of Virginia, reported the New York Times. “After that it was pandemonium. The car hit reverse and sped and everybody who was up the street in my direction started running.”
Two more people died when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed at the site of the protests.
The Unite the Right rally intended to “unify the right-wing against a totalitarian Communist crackdown” and “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests just like any other group is able to do.”
The demonstration was organized by Jason Kessler, described as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in order to protest the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Emancipation Park.
Thousands of white-nationalists, neo-nazis, and “alt-right” supporters from around the United States descended on the campus of the Charlottesville University of Virginia for the rally.
The night before, a group of several hundred marchers, mostly white men in their 20's and 30's, had marched through the campus carrying lit torches and shouting ethno-nationalist slogans like “You will not replace us!”.
A group of anti-racist counter-protesters who had showed up to challenge the spontaneous march, were soon surrounded. Accounts circulated on social media saying that the counter-demonstrators had been beaten.
The first statement addressing the protests from the White House came from Melania Trump, who tweeted a quip that included the statement, “No good comes from violence.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, whose campaign slogans were chanted and campaign posters were carried by the far-right groups, also addressed the events in Charlottesville on Twitter:
We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
While he condemned the bloody protests, he did not single out the white nationalist rally beyond blaming “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
“We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back,” David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and a speaker at the rally, told reporters.
Charlottesville, a small, typical U.S. college town, has in the past year become a focal point of far-right protests in the United States since it voted to remove a number of Confederate monuments.