One was killed and several at least 19 people were injured when a car plowed into the crowd at a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where rival groups plunged into vicious fighting. A state of emergency has been declared.
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will — go home,” Mayor Mike Signer wrote on Saturday.
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
The violent rally turned tragic after a car plowed into counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally, fueling the anxiety over the rise of politically-motivated violence at a time of escalating political polarization during the Donald J. Trump presidency.
President Trump was quick to denounce the violence and urged calm. “AM in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!” he wrote on Twitter.
Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
President Trump’s later remarks at a press conference, however, did not contain a direct reference to the white groups who marched in a parade at previous night, carrying torches. The president said he condemns in strongest terms “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
The rally was organized by Richard Spencer, one of the white nationalist firebrands who aimed to arouse themes of the alt-right in addressing the disgruntled young members. But the rally soon descended into violent street brawls between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville well before the official start of the rally.
A 32-year-old woman died when the car hit, and at least 19 injured in the crash that sought havoc among the protesters who came to stand against white nationalists. In total, 34 people have been injured in clashes.
The whole saga began after an escalating public tussle over the removal of Confederate symbols and monuments across the South, an issue that has become an evident indicator of emerging political and social cleavages.
White nationalist groups had long been contemplating to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove the statue of Robert Edward Lee, who was commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during Civil War.
The rally was a public testimony to the rise of increasingly confident and assertive alt-right groups who have been emboldened by Mr. Trump’s elevation to the presidency. It saw the gathering of Neo-Nazi groups, white nationalists and even Ku Klux Klan. Speaking to media, David Duke, former leader of Ku Klux Klan, said protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump to take our country back.”
Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the state of Virginia to defuse the simmering tension. The driver of the car has been taken into custody, a police officer with Charlottesville Police Department confirmed.
In photos: Violence erupts at a white nationalist rally in #Charlottesville, Virginia https://t.co/fR4Ypbm34U pic.twitter.com/oZ7ZhtMo8A
— CNN International (@cnni) August 12, 2017
The incident has again highlighted the public debates over the blurred lines between the right of freedom of expression and hatred-driven political violence.
Former President Bill Clinton expressed his visceral denunciation of the violence in Charlotteville through Twitter.
Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy. #Charlottesville
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) August 12, 2017
The violence at the rally has drawn condemnation and criticism from both ends of the political divide. First Lady Melania Trump who usually steers clear of daily politics and remains above the political fray joined condemning the violence.
Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 12, 2017