One Dead, 30 Injured as Car Plows Into Crowd Protesting White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville

Ohio man, 20, held by police on charges related to car-ramming ■ Virginia State Police helicopter crash leaves 2 dead ■ State of emergency declared ahead of march

A woman receives first-aid after a car plows into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017.
A woman receives first-aid after a car plows into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP

At least one person died and 30 were injured in a day of violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Virginia on Saturday, with the state's governor blaming the neo-Nazis for sparking the violence and demanding that they go home.

>> Rabbis, Jewish students face down white nationalists ■ Nazism and anti-Semitism take center stage at Charlottesville rally ■ Trump condemns 'display of hatred, bigotry and violence - on many sides' >>

Two people also died when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near the violence in Charlottesville, federal aviation officials said.

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It was not clear if the crash was related to the outbreak of clashes in the Southern college town, where protesters fought hundreds of white supremacists trying to halt the planned removal of a Confederate statue from a park.

A man from Ohio was held by police on charges relating to the car incident, including second-degree murder, according to Martin Kumer, Albemarle Charlottesville's regional jail superintendent.

The suspect was James Alex Fields, Jr., a 20-year-old white man from Ohio, Kumer said. It was not clear why the suspect was in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia's flagship campus.

A mugshot of James Alex Fields Jr., who was charged with one count of second degree murder after ramming into a crowed in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017.
HANDOUT/REUTERS

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared an emergency and halted a white nationalist rally, while U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the violence.

"I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: go home," Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told a news conference.

"You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you," he said.

Trump responded to the violent clashes at a press conference in New Jersey. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence – on many sides, on many sides," Trump said, adding: "No citizen should ever fear for their safety. The hate and division must stop now."

The incident took place as clashes erupted between the white nationalists, who protested the planned removal of a Confederate general's statue that critics say glorifies the era of slavery, counterprotesters who descended on the city.

Fighting broke out in the city's downtown before noon when hundreds of people, some wearing white nationalist symbols and carrying Confederate battle flags, were confronted by a nearly equal number of counter-protesters. The clashes began the previous evening, resulting in at least one arrest.

Evidently responding to the violent development, 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!"

Responding to the president, Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer, who is Jewish, tweeted: "Donald Trump, thanks, at long last, for condemning hate in speech and action. Our work here is just beginning. Yours is too.” 

Soon after the melee erupted, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the city, home of the University of Virginia's flagship campus. The gathering was declared an "unlawful assembly," allowing police to disperse the protesters.

Many of the combatants on both sides wore helmets and held shields, and some brandished wooden poles. Militia members in the city openly carried rifles, although no gunfire was reported.

"You will not erase us," chanted a crowd of white nationalists, while counter-protesters carried placards that read: "Nazi go home" and "Smash white supremacy."

After the crowd was dispersed, dozens of law enforcement officers clad in riot gear were seen patrolling the streets, with small clusters of protesters gathered in pockets in the surrounding streets.

Two people were injured in clashes on Saturday, Virginia State Police said on Twitter. Local law enforcement agencies could not be reached immediately for comment.

The clash unfolded ahead of the planned start of a "Unite the Right" rally that was expected to draw thousands of people who are angry at the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.

The incident highlights a persistent debate in the U.S. South over the display of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.

Supporters of removing statues such as the one of Robert E. Lee call them racially insensitive, while opponents say such moves reflect "empty political correctness" and that the Confederate symbols honor Southern heritage.

Lee was a symbol for white people threatened by immigration and "ethnic cleansing," blogger Jason Kessler, who organized the rally, said in an interview with Pennsylvania's WHLM radio on Thursday.

More broadly, the confrontation reflects growing political polarization that has intensified since U.S. President Donald Trump's election. The blunt-speaking Republican, who vowed to shake up Washington's political culture, has emboldened both sides of the divide, giving rise to more florid rhetoric and a steady wave of protests.

The Charlottesville clashes started on Friday night when both groups threw punches and pushed each other as police moved in to break up the confrontation. At least one person was arrested on Friday, and several people were treated for minor injuries, the Daily Progress newspaper said.

The National Guard is on standby, with Virginia State Police coordinating security in the city of 45,000, the governor said in a statement on Friday.

City officials had planned to move the event to a larger park beyond downtown, citing safety concerns at the 1-acre (0.4 hectare) Emancipation Park, where the rally was to be held. Kessler sued the city, and on Friday night a federal court sided with him.

Mimi Arbeit, an organizer of the planned counter-protests, rejected Kessler's argument that the rally was about freedom of speech.

"Fascism functions by using the institutions of a democracy towards its own ends," she told Reuters on Friday.