UPDATE Aug. 12, 12:30 p.m. PT: Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer has confirmed that at least one person has died during the riots, but did not provide any further details.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hundreds of demonstrators, including white nationalists, white supremacists, and the alt-right, clashed with other protesters in Charlottesville, Va. early Saturday as the right wing groups planned to rally to defend a statue of Civil War confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from being removed.
Shortly before noon, Charlottesville police declared that the gathering was an unlawful assembly and ordered that demonstrators disburse. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to assist in the state’s response, as did local officials. Local police had the support of the National Guard.
Two people were injured in the clashes between the the white nationalists and other protesters, police said. The injuries were described as “serious but not life-threatening.”
The rally was planned in front of the statue at Emancipation Park following a march on Friday night at the University of Virginia, in which the white demonstrators, mainly young men, carried tiki torches. It was a chilling scene reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan marches that countered the civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s.
Police had said between 2,000 and 6,000 demonstrators were expected.
Small fights broke out on Saturday morning, with pepper spray and smoke bombs used and water bottles thrown in the air. The clashes took place at 2nd Street and Market in the heart of the city as the white nationalists chanted “blood and soil,” a phrase that was popularized in Germany at the start of the Nazi era in the 1930s. They also chanted “F— you faggots” at counter protesters.
Some of the counter protesters chanted, “black lives matter.”
“The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable and must stop,” McAuliffe said on Twitter Saturday morning. “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”
Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor, tweeted that “having a right to spew vile hate doesn’t make it right. Painful to see ugly display in C-ville last night. God bless police who keep order.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned the scene, saying that “the views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.” The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, also condemned the white supremacists, which included self-described Nazis. One man wore a T-shirt with a quote from Adolf Hitler.
The University of Virginia cancelled all events and classes on Saturday afternoon.
President Donald Trump has not yet weighed in on the planned demonstrations.
Chelsea Clinton tweeted out, “Mr. President?”
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) August 12, 2017
First Lady Melania Trump condemned the hate speech and 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
The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the Lee statue and to rename Lee Park to Emancipation Park. A number of municipalities across the country have removed emblems from the Confederate era, including the Confederate flag.