White Nationalist Rally In Virginia Turns Violent; Emergency Declared
Virginia's governor has declared a state of emergency involving violent clashes between hundreds of protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
The move comes ahead of a white nationalist rally planned in the small college town to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. On Saturday morning, protesters and counterprotesters faced off and kicked and punched, hurled water bottles and deployed chemical sprays against one another.
Approximately 500 protesters were on-site, with more than double the amount of counterprotesters, according to reporter Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF and Radio IQ. She said some injuries had been reported.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, before offering protesters the option of being arrested or moving to another larger location approximately 1 mile away, she told NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition on Saturday.
The declaration by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was made in order to "aid state response to violence" at the rally in the city about 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and home to the University of Virginia. The city's manager also declared a local emergency and police ordered people to disperse from the area around the statue, according to The Associated Press.
The "Unite the Right" rally was expected to draw a lot of people from out of town. It follows last month's Ku Klux Klan rally in the town that drew about 50 Klan members and about 1,000 counter-protesters.
After the violent outbursts, politicians tweeted their disdain at the events in Charlottesville. President Trump called on Americans to "come together as one."
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the views of the white nationalists "repugnant," and called for Americans to unite against "this kind of vile bigotry."
First Lady Melania Trump called for people to "communicate (without) hate in our hearts."
The clashes began Friday night, when far-right protesters carrying torches descended on the university campus.
In a Facebook post about that march, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer wrote, "I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus."
In the days leading up to Saturday's planned rally, there had been some back-and-forth about where it would be held.
The Associated Press reports that a federal judge has ordered Charlottesville to allow the rally to take place at its originally planned location downtown:
"U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad issued a preliminary injunction Friday in a lawsuit filed against Charlottesville by right-wing blogger Jason Kessler.
"The city announced earlier this week that the rally must be moved out of Emancipation Park to a larger one, citing safety reasons.
"Kessler sued, saying the change was a free speech violation. The judge wrote that Kessler was likely to prevail and granted the injunction."
After the ruling, The New York Times reports:
"Late Friday night, several hundred torch-bearing men and women marched on the main quadrangle of the University of Virginia's grounds, shouting, 'You will not replace us,' and 'Jew will not replace us.' They walked around the Rotunda, the university's signature building, and to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, where a group of counterprotesters were gathered, and a brawl ensued."
University President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement after Friday night's march.
"As President of the University of Virginia, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our Grounds this evening. I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including University personnel who were attempting to maintain order.
"Law enforcement continues to investigate the incident, and it is my hope that any individuals responsible for criminal acts are held accountable. The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University's values."
City officials and police say they are prepared for any violence. Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged Virginians to stay away from the rally and placed the National Guard on standby. The guard released a statement saying it would "closely monitor the situation."
Earlier this week, All Things Considered host Airi Shapiro reported on Airbnb's decision to make it harder for people attending the rally to find places to stay. The company canceled the accounts of people that it confirmed had used its platform to book lodging for the event. It says those people defy its community standards. Rally organizers say this should be grounds for a lawsuit.
Debate over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville began when an African-American high school student started a petition more than a year ago to have it removed. Lee, who was born in Virginia, commanded Confederate forces in the Civil War from 1862 until he surrendered in 1865.