Hundreds of far-right demonstrators wielded torches as they marched on to the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville on Friday night and reportedly attacked a much smaller group of counter-protesters who had linked arms around a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
Starting at a municipal park less than a mile away, “alt-right” protesters who have gathered for the weekend Unite the Right rally marched in a long column over the short distance to the campus, chanting slogans like “You will not replace us” and “Blood and soil”.
When the marchers reached and surrounded the counter-protesters there was a short verbal confrontation. Counter-protesters claimed they were then attacked with swung torches, pepper spray and lighter fluid.
Emily Gorcenski, who shared several live videos of the event, was among the protesters who said they were hit with the mace spray. “[They] completely surrounded us and wouldn’t let us out.”
She said police did not intervene until long after the rightwing marchers had struck out at protesters. “I saw hundreds of people chanting Nazi slogans and police do nothing.”
The Washington Post reported that at least one counter-demonstrator used a chemical spray, affecting a number of protesters.
Charlottesville police did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Two male protesters who said they were also maced, and did not wish to be named, described far-right protesters moving from verbal abuse, to pushing and shoving protesters, to the noxious spray.
“Someone from the alt right maced me right in the face – unprovoked,” said one. “After they maced people they started punching people and hitting them with torches.” Several protesters said a woman using a wheelchair was among those sprayed.
Just up the street from the fracas, a community prayer meeting was held in St Paul’s memorial church, addressed by several preachers including prominent civil rights leader Dr Cornel West. The end of the service overlapped with the torch parade and many people waited for long periods before leaving citing safety concerns.
In an interview, West said: “The crypto-fascists, the neofascists, the neo-Nazis now feel so empowered, not just by Trump but by the whole shift in the nation towards scapegoats.
“I don’t like this talk about ‘alt-right’, that’s an unnecessary abstraction. These are neofascists in contemporary garb.”
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A planned protest in Virginia by white nationalists was abandoned on Saturday after a spate of violence prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency and law enforcement officers to clear the area.
The demonstration, which both organizers and critics had said was the largest gathering of white nationalists in recent years, turned violent almost immediately and left several people injured.
The turmoil began with a march Friday night and escalated Saturday morning as hundreds of white nationalists gathered. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, they converged on a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”
Hundreds of counterprotesters quickly surrounded the crowd, chanting and carrying their own signs.
By 11 a.m., the scene had exploded into taunting, shoving and outright brawling. Barricades encircling the park and separating the two sides began to come down, and police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air.
Police cleared the area before noon, and the Virginia National Guard arrived as officers began arresting some who remained for unlawful assembly. But fears lingered that the altercation would start again nearby, even as politicians, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, condemned the violence.
A couple hours later, a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, and city officials said there were multiple injuries after a three-car crash.
Emergency medical personnel treated eight people after the earlier clashes, the Charlottesville Police Department said. It was not immediately clear how severely they were hurt. Several area hospitals did not return telephone calls seeking information.
The fight was the latest in a series of tense dramas unfolding across the United States over plans to remove statues and other historic markers of the Confederacy. The battles have been intensified by the election of President Trump, who enjoys fervent support from white nationalists.
–Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Brian M. Rosenthal, State of Emergency Declared in Charlottesville After Protests Turn Violent
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump is rarely reluctant to express his opinion, but he is often seized by caution when addressing the violence and vitriol of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists, some of whom are his supporters.
After days of genially bombastic interactions with the news media on North Korea and the shortcomings of congressional Republicans, Mr. Trump on Saturday condemned the bloody protests in Charlottesville, Va., in what critics in both parties saw as muted, equivocal terms.
During a brief and uncomfortable address to reporters at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., he called for an end to the violence. But he was the only national political figure to spread blame for the “hatred, bigotry and violence” that resulted in the death of one person to “many sides.”
For the most part, Republican leaders and other allies have kept quiet over several months about Mr. Trump’s outbursts and angry Twitter posts. But recently they have stopped averting their gazes and on Saturday a handful criticized his reaction to Charlottesville as insufficient.
“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado, who oversees the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans.
“These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” he added, a description several of his colleagues used.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and the father of the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not dispute Mr. Trump’s comments directly, but he called the behavior of white nationalists in Charlottesville “evil.”
Democrats have suggested that Mr. Trump is simply unwilling to alienate the segment of his white electoral base that embraces bigotry. The president has forcefully rejected any suggestion he harbors any racial or ethnic animosities, and points to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an observant Jew, and his daughter Ivanka, who converted to the faith, as proof of his inclusiveness.
In one Twitter post on Saturday, Mr. Trump nodded to that inclusiveness.
“We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST,” the president wrote, a statement that had echoes of his campaign slogan, America First.
But like several other statements Mr. Trump made on Saturday, the tweet made no mention that the violence in Charlottesville was initiated by white supremacists brandishing anti-Semitic placards, Confederate battle flags, torches and a few Trump campaign signs.
Mr. Trump, the product of a well-to-do, predominantly white Queens enclave who in 1989 paid for a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for the death penalty for five black teenagers convicted but later exonerated of raping a white woman in Central Park, flirted with racial controversy during the 2016 campaign. He repeatedly expressed outrage that anyone could suggest he was prejudiced.
When he retweeted white supremacists’ accounts, he brushed aside questions about them. When he was asked about the support he had been given by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, he chafed, insisting he didn’t know Mr. Duke.
Finally, at a news conference in South Carolina, Mr. Trump said “I disavow” when pressed on Mr. Duke. He later described Mr. Duke as a “bad person.”
When his social media director, Dan Scavino, posted an image on Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed with a Star of David near Hillary Clinton’s head, with money raining down, Mr. Trump rejected widespread criticism of the image as anti-Semitic.
In an interview that aired in September 2016, Mr. Trump said “I am the least racist person that you have ever met,’’ a statement he repeated at a White House news conference in February.
In Bedminster on Saturday, Mr. Trump said he and his team were “closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va.,” then tried to portray the violence there as a chronic, bipartisan plague. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country,’’ he said. “It’s not Donald Trump, it’s not Barack Obama.”
Mr. Trump did not single out the marchers, who included the white supremacist Richard Spencer and Mr. Duke, for their ideology.
While Democrats and some Republicans faulted Mr. Trump for being too vague, Mr. Duke was among the few Trump critics who thought the president had gone too far.
“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he wrote on Twitter, shortly after the president spoke.
The president remained silent on the violence for most of the morning even as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, and dozens of other public figures condemned the march.
Mrs. Trump, using her official Twitter account, wrote, “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville.”
Mr. Ryan was even more explicit. “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry,” he wrote on Twitter at noon, around the time that Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the city.
–Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, Trump’s Remarks On Charlottesville Violence Are Criticized As Insufficient