1 dead, driver arrested at white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

The planned rally had already been shut down following clashes between alt-right demonstrators, counter-protesters, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and supporters of Black Lives Matter.

One person was killed and 19 injured Saturday when a car crashed into a crowd of peaceful protesters leaving a "Unite the Right" rally that officials declared an "unlawful assembly." State officials said the driver was in custody.

The planned rally had already been shut down following bottle-throwing clashes between alt-right demonstrators, counter-protesters, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and supporters of Black Lives Matter.

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Angela Taylor, a public information officer at the University of Virginia Medical Center, told USA TODAY that 20 patients were taken there and one died. The conditions of the other 19 were not yet determined.

“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Singer tweeted.

The driver of a silver Dodge Charger plowed into one of the groups streaming away from the rally at Emancipation Park through the narrow downtown streets.

Photos and video posted on social media showed several people receiving treatment for injuries on the ground.

Charlottesville officials said two people were treated for serious injuries after fights broke out earlier in the lead up to the rally that city officials declared an "unlawful assembly."

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Photos and video posted on social media showed several people receiving treatment for injuries on the ground.

Charlottesville officials said two people were treated for serious injuries after fights broke out earlier in the lead up to the rally that city officials declared an "unlawful assembly."

Graphic video: Car slams into crowd at alt-right demonstration

President Trump, who is on vacation at his golf club in New Jersey, condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he’s called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in Charlottesville.

Trump called for “a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

Trump said he spoke with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and “we agreed that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now.”

The earlier violence, which had prompted McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency. had played out against a backdrop of unofficial, armed militia groups ringing the park, where the rally was called to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Some 500 protesters among the white nationalist and alt-right groups left the park shortly after state police, using megaphones, declared the gathering an "unlawful assembly" at 11:40 a.m., about 20 minutes before the rally was scheduled to begin.

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Clusters of alt-right activists and counter-protesters remained, however, raising fears of more clashes. Police then put on gas masks as they stepped up efforts to disperse the crowds, which then left the park.

McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to give local authorities more resources to quell the disturbance. Officials had already deployed police to maintain order and McAuliffe had placed the Virginia National Guard on standby.

The clashes, mainly between white nationalists and anti-fascist groups, broke out as crowds moved toward the park where the Lee statue is located. At one point, dozens of people used wooden poles from their flags and banners as weapons. Others threw trash and bottles into the opposing ranks of protesters as the crowds swelled.

Protesters on one side of a square held up anti-fascist signs and Black Lives Matter banners, while groups on the other displayed Confederate flags and iron cross banners.

Numerous protesters came prepared, wearing helmets and flak jackets and charging into crowds holding plastic riot shields.

Before the city declared the rally an unlawful assembly, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones and Interim County Executive Doug Walker issued the emergency declaration for two city jurisdictions to allow officials to request additional resources if needed to cope with the unfolding events.

From his vacation home in New Jersey, President Trump tweeted: "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!"

Saturday's violence follows a spontaneous march the previous night by torch-wielding protesters on the University of Virginia campus that was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly after scuffles broke out and pepper spray filled the air.

That came after a federal court injunction rejected the city's earlier attempt to move the "Unite the Right" rally to another park.

U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad issued the injunction late Friday in a lawsuit filed against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, a local resident.

Conrad ruled the city's attempt to revoke Kessler's rally permit and move the protest to another park "was based on the content of his speech.”

The judge noted the city did not try at the same time to move counter-protesters to another location.

On the eve of the rally, McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he would prefer that no one shows up at the "Unite the Right" rally.

"I want to urge my fellow Virginians who may consider joining either in support or opposition to the planned rally to make alternative plans," he said.

Police chief Al Thomas said the unfolding events created a "lot of anxiety" in the community, but he felt it had sufficient resources to meet the "significant challenge."

City authorities were particularly alarmed by Friday night's march by hundreds of white nationalists who gathered at the feet of a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the UVa. campus, chanting "You will not replace us."

Fights broke out as some marchers bearing tiki torches swung them at others, the Daily Progress reported. One person was arrested and several were treated for minor injuries, the paper reported.

UVa. President Teresa Sullivan said she was "deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior" displayed by the marchers.

Singer, who opposed the downtown rally, said the city would honor the judge's ruling, but added there is "no constitutional right to incite or promote violence by anyone who will be gathered this weekend.”

"Democracy may be noisy and it may be messy, but it remains the best system of government that people have figured out to use to govern themselves,” he said.

The ACLU of Virginia and the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, which backed Kessler's suit, said in a letter to city officials that while the message of the "Unite the Right" rally "may raise strong feelings of opposition among area residents and political leaders, that opposition can be no basis for government action that would suppress the First Amendment rights of demonstrators who have acted according to the law.”

In the past few months, white nationalist groups have paid particular attention to Charlottesville, a progressive college town where over 80% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the Lee statue, but a judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported.

After the vote to remove the statue, several dozen demonstrators, led by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, gathered at night by the Lee statue, wielding torches.

In July, Ku Klux Klan members held a rally in Charlottesville in Justice Park, where they were met with more than a thousand upset counter-protesters.

White nationalist groups continue to return to Charlottesville partly because they saw the May torch light gathering as a great success, noted Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“They loved the imagery of that. They were over the moon about that,” she said. “They viewed it as having been a wonderful recruiting tool."

Gabe Cavallaro reports for The (Staunton) News Leader. Stanglin reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Sarah Toy, Jayme Deerwester

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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