Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency as bloody brawls between white nationalists and counter-protesters broke out at a major far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
At least eight injuries had already been reported before a vehicle hit a group of protesters on Saturday afternoon, prompting street medics to rush to the aid of several bloodied victims. State police described the incident as a “three-vehicle crash” and said they were investigating.
The day’s chaos first began as far-right groups gathered in the morning for one of their largest demonstrations in at least a decade, with some carrying Nazi and Confederate flags. Groups on the left and the right squared off with sticks and began throwing rocks and other projectiles as testy encounters turned into full street brawls involving dozens of people.
Officials soon declared the “Unite the Right” event an unlawful assembly and began making arrests, sending far-right leaders like white nationalist Richard Spencer fleeing as top Democratic and Republican officials — including President Trump — issued statements denouncing the event.
“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” Trump said in a tweet. “There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”
“The hate and bigotry witnessed in #Charlottesville does not reflect American values,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “I wholeheartedly oppose their actions.”
“The white nationalist demonstration in #Charlottesville is a reprehensible display of racism and hatred that has no place in our society,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Far-right leaders were angered by the turn of events, particularly by local leaders’ decision to shut down the rally and use police to clear away attendees.
“Up until now, I’ve never had a feeling that my own government is cracking down on me,” a shirtless and damp-looking Spencer said in a livestream video after he escaped the scene, saying that anti-fascists had attacked him with pepper spray and that he was kicked by police officers holding shields.
In a tweet to his allies, Spencer added: “My recommendation: Disperse. Get out of Charlottesville city limits.”
Attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally, which had been in the works for weeks, included white nationalists, Neo-Nazis and other far-right figures drawn from around the nation. Many came prepared for the possibility of a fight. Some militia members in military-style fatigues and open-carrying assault-style AR-15 rifles also came to watch the action.
In morning news footage, white nationalists in helmets, who were holding plastic shields, and anti-racism protesters carrying red banners could be seen skirmishing with each other on a city street, with someone spraying what appeared to be a crowd-control substance at the counter-protesters. Virginia state police said pepper spray was being released by crowd members.
Attendees and journalists at the scene had said that police were not intervening to break up many of the fights, which were shared on social media.
Far-right speakers had been scheduled to address the rally attendees, but that didn’t happen. Charlottesville city and Abermarle County officials declared a local state of emergency to ask for more law enforcement resources if necessary, citing “imminent threat of civil disturbance, unrest, potential injury to persons, and destruction of public and personal property” in their formal declaration. Police declared an unlawful assembly soon after.
Rally organizer Jason Kessler blamed the chaos on the city’s recent attempts to restrict the rally’s location, disrupting organizers’ plans. He said some far-right leaders had been boxed into a small area by police, who are not allowing speakers into a park area to speak as planned.
“There are so many people that have come in, that have been Maced in the eyes, like half of our speakers have been Maced,” Kessler said in a livestream video. “There’s not a … single Charlottesville police officer out there protecting our guys.”
The event also had drawn a range of counter-protesters, including anti-fascists and interfaith clergy.
The night before, scores of white nationalists holding Tiki torches marched through the largely empty University of Virginia campus chanting, “Blood and soil” — an old Nazi slogan — “you will not replace us” and “white lives matter.” Fights broke out there, too, as the demonstrators surrounded a small group of counter-protesters who had assembled on campus.
The origin of the weekend’s events can be traced back to the city’s decision to order the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from one of its parks, whose name was changed from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. The statue has not yet been removed.
11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with new details, including a vehicle striking several people.
10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with new details, including a tweet from President Trump denouncing the violence.
9:30 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.
This article was originally published at 9 a.m.