Three dead, dozens hurt after Virginia white nationalist rally; Trump blames ‘many sides’

At least three people were killed and 35 injured after a violence-filled Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists had gathered for one of their largest rallies in at least a decade, only to see their event end in chaos and national controversy.

Bloody street brawls broke out between dozens of anti-racism activists and far-right attendees, many of whom carried shields, weapons and Nazi and Confederate battle flags. One woman was killed when a driver plowed a sports car into a crowd of protesters; he was arrested and charged with murder and other offensive. Two troopers died when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near the city after monitoring the chaos.

By the end of the day, top political officials around the nation, both Republicans and Democrats, were nearly unanimous in denouncing racism and the violence that stemmed from the rally, which was called off before it could even begin.

But in a television statement that drew criticism from many of his fellow Republicans, as well as from Democrats, President Trump blamed the violence “on many sides, on many sides. As he did repeatedly during his presidential campaign, Trump avoided direct criticism of the nation’s burgeoning white nationalist movement, whose leaders have openly and repeatedly embraced Trump’s presidency.

Shortly later, two state troopers died when a State Police helicopter crashed in the woods outside Charlottesville. The wreckage was fully engulfed in flames, according to images from local media.

The victims were identified as the pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Va.; and Berke M.M. Bates, 40, of Quinton, Va. Officials do not suspect foul play.

“Our state police and law enforcement family at-large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day,” state police superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said in a statement.

In televised remarks, Trump remarked on the “terrible events” and condemned “in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides.”

He added: “No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country, we love our God, we love our flag, we’re proud of our country, we’re proud of who we are, so we’re going to get this situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it, and we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country.”

As more reports about the day’s casualties came in, Trump tweeted: “Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!”

Leaders from all over the country chimed in with denunciations.

”Our hearts are with today’s victims,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a tweet. “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.”

”White supremacists aren’t patriots, they’re traitors,” tweeted U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “Americans must unite against hatred & bigotry.”

“The white nationalist demonstration in #Charlottesville is a reprehensible display of racism and hatred that has no place in our society,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

But Trump’s remarks — especially his blame for the violence on “many sides” — drew particular criticism.

“The violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides,’ ” tweeted Democratic Virginia Atty. Gen. Mark Herring. “It is racists and white supremacists.”

“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). “These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

As events unfolded in the morning, rally organizer Jason Kessler blamed the chaos on the city’s recent attempts to restrict the rally’s location, disrupting organizers’ plans.

“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.”

Later in the evening, Kessler disavowed the driver who ran over protesters but laid the responsibility for harm on the city.

“Charlottesville has blood on its hands, OK?” Kessler said. “We have been organizing this event for two months and we had a security plan in place to protect people. … The police stood down and refused to separate the counter-demonstrators, and now people are dead.”

The event also had drawn a range of counter-protesters, including anti-fascists and interfaith clergy.

Many protesters drove in from other towns in Virginia and from other states to join the counter-protest, including Mark Tinkleman, who drove from Philadelphia with 10 other members of the Refuse Fascism protest group.

“We tried to march to make it clear that we’re not going to be intimidated,” Tinkleman said. “This is what Trump is doing to the country — all these fascists coming together, white supremacists, the Klan, neo-Nazis. We can’t ignore that.”

Not all of the encounters between the far-right and the anti-racism protesters were violent, said Jen Siomacco, a 31-year-old Charlottesville resident who came out to protest the white nationalists.

Personally, she didn’t see “a whole lot of confrontation and aggressive violence,” though there were a “good number of small scuffles” where some punches were thrown. “But they were broken up by police,” she said.

Many residents stayed home instead of going out, and area businesses, disturbed by the rally, shut down for the day instead. Some reportedly put a sign on their windows: “If equality & diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we.”

By 6:30 p.m., the streets where the clashes had occurred were largely deserted, except for large numbers of police and a few residents from houses nearby, who had emerged to survey the scene and walk their dogs.

Fearing more violence, the City Council issued an emergency ordinance to give the police chief power to issue a curfew or restrict people’s ability to gather or drive outside.

At the First United Methodist Church, a few blocks from where the car crashed into protesters, volunteers had opened the church to those seeking shelter, including witnesses to the attack who were still shaken.

“It was the most brutal scene I’ve ever seen,” said Izaac Rodriguez, 22, whose friend, Justice, was struck in the leg by the car.

Jennifer Rolf-Maloney, 24, of Virginia Beach, decided to make the two-hour drive to join the counter-protest. She was inspired by history.

“Back in World War II, the Nazis came to power because people turned a blind eye,” she said. “This is home-grown terrorism.”

Times staff writer Cloud and special correspondent Armengol reported from Charlottesville, and staff writer Pearce from Los Angeles.


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8 p.m.: This article was updated with additional accounts from eyewitnesses and with comments from Paul D. Ryan and John McCain.

6:45 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details gathered from eyewitnesses in Charlottesville.

1:25 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect 19 people injured and include President Trump’s remarks on the day’s events in Charlottesville.

12:45 p.m.: This article was updated with the death of one protester, who was struck by a vehicle.

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.