A large white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday exploded into violence and multiple brawls, and climaxed tragically as a car driven by a supposed neo-Nazi plowed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, causing loss of life.
At least three people were killed and 20 others were injured, some severely, near the University of Virginia as the car drove into the crowd rallying against the “Unite the Right” rally. Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer tweeted that he was “heartbroken that a life has been lost here” and urged “all people of good will [to] go home.” He also told the white supremacists to “go home.” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe bluntly said the white supremacists “call themselves patriots, but you are not patriots.”
“Our message is plain and simple. Go home … You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you,” McAuliffe said at a press conference.
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran told the Associated Press that the driver of the car, a man, was in custody. Moran did not provide the driver’s name.
I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will–go home.
— Mike Signer (@MikeSigner) August 12, 2017
Video of car hitting anti-racist protestors. Let there be no confusion: this was deliberate terrorism. My prayers with victims. Stay home. pic.twitter.com/MUOZs71Pf4
— Brennan Gilmore (@brennanmgilmore) August 12, 2017
Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, told the Associated Press several hundred counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A silver Dodge Challenger smashed into another car, then backed up, barreling through “a sea of people.”
The impact hurled people into the air. Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety in different directions.
The crash occurred approximately two hours after clashes in which hundreds of people argued, screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other ahead of the scheduled noon demonstration.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, which city officials said allowed them to request additional resources to respond to the clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and those opposing them.
Before the car crash, local authorities said that just one person had been arrested and eight people had been treated for injuries.
According to CNN, right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had planned what he called a “pro-white” rally to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park.
Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on extremism, said multiple white power groups had gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinhead groups and Ku Klux Klan factions.
“We anticipated this event being the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade,” Segal said. “Unfortunately, it appears to have become the most violent as well.”
The white nationalist organizations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa, the Southern nationalist League of the South, the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said, along with several groups with a smaller presence.
Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people.”
“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.
Clashes also broke out Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches. A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several people were injured. The school announced on Saturday that it would be canceling all scheduled events and programming today. They said the medical center would be open.
President Donald Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” after the clashes. He called for “a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
First lady Melania Trump also tweeted, “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville.”
The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also tweeted, condemning the protests. “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,” Ryan tweeted. “Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer tweeted before Trump’s reaction, “March & rally in Charlottesville against everything the flag stands for. President Trump must condemn in strongest terms immediately.”
There were also tweets of condemnation coming from former vice president Joe Biden and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
The fracas even reached the National Hockey League. The Detroit Red Wings released a statement Saturday denouncing the use of their logo at the rally by white supremacists. They are considering legal action to stop it.