UPDATED: Initial reports stated that there had only been one fatality and 19 injuries. Local police confirmed later in the day that three had been killed while 35 were injured.
A state of emergency has been declared in the state of Virginia after white supremacist groups clashed with protesters in the town of Charlottesville on Saturday.
Jason Kessler, a self described “pro-white” activist had organized a Unite the Right rally which was set to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from a park formerly known as Lee Square and renamed Emancipation Park after a city council vote in February.
The rally scheduled for noon on Saturday was one of many that have been held over several months as cities and states across the country removed Confederate monuments from public spaces. In May of 2017 the city of New Orleans, Louisiana removed the last Confederate statue in the city prompting protests from groups who claimed it was an attack on history.
Many of the monuments across the south had not been raised until the mid 20th century in response to the Civil Rights Movement. The Charlottesville statue was the site of a KKK rally held in July which was met by protesters.
A tiki-torch-lit march on the University of Virginia campus took place on Friday night in preparation for Saturday’s Unite the Right rally. The rally was initially intended to bring together a wide range of conservative groups and was expected to draw up to 6,000 supporters, but was quickly hijacked by extremist and white nationalist groups driving more moderate conservatives away.
Marchers on Friday and Saturday were seen wearing swastikas and giving Nazi salutes. Local police identified some participants in the rally as members of various white nationalist groups including the National Socialist Movement, the KKK and 3% militia.
On Saturday, police dispersed protesters and rally-goers by 1PM long after Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.
Governor McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency to aid state response to violence at Alt-Right rally in Charlottesville
— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) August 12, 2017
But clashes between rally-goers, protesters and police continued into the afternoon as a three vehicle collision, which reportedly injured 19 and killed one, caused the chaos to escalate.
As the Associated Press reported:
Authorities are on the scene after a vehicle plowed into a group of people marching peacefully through downtown Charlottesville.
In an unrelated incident, a police helicopter which had been following the events all day crashed in a nearby field killing the two passengers inside. In total, 35 were injured throughout the day.
Friday nights pre-rally gathering was condemned by the Mayor of Charlottesville and faculty at the University of Virginia including prominent political science professor Larry Sabato and the university’s administration itself.
We strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community tonight. https://t.co/qXdyhDlXVI
— UVA (@UVA) August 12, 2017
Tensions began to rise on Friday night as rally-goers made their way onto campus chanting slogans and holding torches and Confederate flags, until police arrived to disperse the crowds.
As CNN reported, on Friday night crowds were seen:
Chanting, “Blood and soil” and “You [or Jews according to some reports] will not replace us,” the group rallied around a statue of Thomas Jefferson before they clashed with counter-protesters, CNN affiliate WWBT reported. The group left the university’s grounds when police arrived and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
Kessler, the organizer of the event, reportedly sued the city and won the right to hold Saturday’s rally at Emancipation Park after city officials tried to move it to a location farther from the downtown area. But by Saturday morning the rally was cancelled after the governor declared a state of emergency leaving thousands of attendees to roam the streets.
Right-leaning news network Breitbart reported that counter protesters came out in equal numbers and included members of the Black Lives Matter movement and Princeton University professor Conrel West.
Breitbart focused its reports on instances of how the events were being used to attack Donald Trump, posting Tweets from reporters and commentators like Fox News’ Laura Ingraham saying:
Laura Ingraham points out that media is finding a convenient scapegoat to bash President Trump:
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 12, 2017
Meanwhile, Fox News itself hosted a range of commentary throughout the day which condemned the actions of white supremacists and the vehicle driven attacks.
“It has nothing to do with being a Republican, it has nothing to do with being a Democrat.” said Fox News host Julie Banderas “What they are is racists.”
Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos also responded to the events, in his signature fashion of deliberate provocation, writing on his Facebook page: “Loons from the Left versus loons from the Right. Let them battle it out, I say.”
His remarks were shortly followed by an image of alt-right leader Richard Spencer and the caption, “MAKE NAZIS HOT AGAIN”. Spencer was scheduled to speak at the rally and reportedly encouraged his supporters to show up armed.
Some news agencies cited that white nationalist rally-goers claimed Trump’s election victory encouraged them to be more vocal in their cause.
But the president Tweeted in response to the events on Saturday afternoon saying:
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
The president’s tweet prompted several responses from former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, claiming white people were the real victims in American society.
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. https://t.co/Rkfs7O2Ykr
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 12, 2017
President Trump went on to give official remarks to reporters later in the day:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred,” the president said, “bigotry and violence on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. What is vital now is swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”
The president did not take questions from the press at the event which was originally meant to be a photo-op for the signing of a new bill reforming medical care for veterans.
The victim of the vehicle attack has been identified as 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who had joined the counter protests on Saturday.
My heart goes out to Heather Heyer's family. She died standing up against hate & bigotry. Her bravery should inspire all to come together. pic.twitter.com/1Zbi2D2Vgq
— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) August 13, 2017
The attacker, James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio. The 20-year-old was brought to court on Monday morning after his initial court appointed council refused to defend him. Fields has been denied bail and is now awaiting another hearing sometime before August 25.
The two police officers who lost their lives in the helicopter accident were Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen (left) and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates (right).
Featured Photo: Lauren Duca Twitter