A vehicle has plowed into a crowd marching in downtown Charlottesville, killing one person. Earlier, Virginia declared an emergency when clashes broke out between white nationalists and counter-protests.
One person died and 19 people were injured when a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters at a violence-ridden right-wing rally in Charlottesville in the US State of Virginia on Saturday.
Footage showed the car slowing down before accelerating towards the crowd, sending people flying and seemingly crushing one person between two other stationary cars. The silver sedan then reversed away rapidly.
Police later arrested a 20-year-old man who was allegedly the driver. Police said he was being charged with multiple offenses including second-degree murder. The crash killed a 34-year-old woman.
Several hundred counter-demonstrators were marching through the university town for a second day in opposition to a crowd of some 6,000 people attending a right-wing rally when the car struck.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted images from its local chapter showing people who had sustained various wounds.
The FBI said Saturday that it opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the car driving into crowd.
“The Richmond FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident that occurred earlier Saturday morning,” the FBI’s Richmond Division said in a statement. “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence.”
Trump blames many sides
US President Donald Trump said he was closely monitoring the events and condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”
Trump spoke to reporters at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was on a working holiday.
“We have so many incredible things happening in our country,” he said. “So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.”
Trump ignored questions from a journalist about how he felt about his widespread support from white nationalist groups.
Trump’s blaming of many sides drew swift rebuke from Republicans and Democrats.
Democrat House of Representatives member Adam Schiff said Trump “needs to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy. There are not “many sides” here, just right and wrong.”
Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner said on Twitter “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe condemned the violence and asked protesters to go back home.
“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” he told reporters. “Please go home. And never come back. Take your hatred and take your bigotry. There is no place here for you.”
Two dead in helicopter crash
State police said that two of its officers died in a helicopter crash a few hours after the car incident.
Police said the helicopter was helping to monitor the rally in Charlottesville.
A total of 34 people have been injured in clashes between the right-wing protesters and counter-protesters, including the car attack.
People covered in blood
DW correspondent Maya Shwayder reported from the scene saying that the assault was a visibly traumatic experience for those present during the protests and adding that there had been reports of people being covered in blood.
Shwayder said that although the scene of the car attack calmed down, authorities feared clashes could continue throughout the night.
State of emergency
McAuliffe had earlier declared a state of emergency on Saturday morning “to aid state response to violence” at the Charlottesville 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 in a statement.
A controversial statue
As many as 6,000 protesters, including supporters of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), descended on the university town of Charlottesville on Saturday to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park. Charlottesville lies about 160 kilometers (100 miles) outside of the US capital, Washington, DC.
Hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists and KKK members rally in Charlottesville
Protesters oppose the removal of the statue of Lee, saying it is a benign symbol of southern heritage. But critics call it an overtly racist symbol of slavery.
Hundreds of white nationalists marched Friday night on the Charlottesville campus of the University of Virginia, carrying burning torches – a symbol associated with the KKK and its lynchings in the early to mid 20th century.
The Klan had officially endorsed Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2016, and appear to have been emboldened by his administration’s fierce crackdown on immigrants.
Racism in the south
Lee led the Confederate South during the Civil War in its bid to secede from the United States in order to, among other things, maintain slavery. He, and other figures related to the history of the Civil War, remain widely popular across much of the US south, as evidenced by statues and roads commemorating their war-time leaders. The Confederate flag is another such potent symbol that has faced a great deal of scrutiny in the past few years.
In addition to plans to remove the statue, officials have renamed Lee Park where the statue stands, to Emancipation Park, which those opposed to the changes called “empty political correctness.”
Rally organizer Jason Kessler described Robert E. Lee as a symbol of white people threatened by immigration and “ethnic cleansing.” Mimi Arbeit, an organizer of the counter-protests, however, rejected Kessler’s claim that the rally was about freedom of speech.
“Fascism functions … by using the institutions of a democracy towards its own ends,” she said.