WHAT WE KNOW NOW:
Hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis travelled to Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally on Saturday in much greater numbers than their last gathering.
The rally started at noon and was quickly dispersed by police minutes later as fights broke out between demonstrators and counter-protesters.
The night before the rally, demonstrators took to the streets of Cville carrying torches and chanting, “You will not replace us!”, “White lives matter!”, and “Jews will not replace us!” They expressed other white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and pro-Confederacy sentiments as well.
Alt-right organizer, Richard B. Spencer, and former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, were among the marchers.
Their march was met by hundreds of counter-protesters who had gathered at the base of a Thomas Jefferson statue. Some of these counter-protesters were Black Lives Matter activists and “Antifa” group members. A brawl erupted after one of the counter-protesters set off a chemical spray, affecting the marchers.
Soon after the rally was broken up on Saturday, a silver Dodge Challenger plowed into a crowd near the Downtown Mall, wounding at least 19 people and killing one. Witnesses at the scene reported that the crash was intentional.
A crowd of counter-protesters was walking up 4th Street when the car sped down the street towards the crowd, running people over, and sending some into the air. It then crashed into a silver convertible and a van.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency for the state of Virginia soon after.
From the Bedminster Golf Club President Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms this degree of hatred, bigotry, and violence, on many sides.”
He did not specifically criticize the white nationalist rally and its neo-Nazi slogans.
During a bill signing ceremony, Trump continued to say: “This has been going on for a long time in our country, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
The rally was organized to protest the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park, a community center formerly known as Lee Square. The city’s plan to remove the statue came on the heels of other like removals of Confederate monuments throughout the south. The city council cited Lee’s lack of connection to the Charlottesville region as a primary reason for its removal, implying that the statue served as an indirect celebration of the Confederacy.
Richard B. Spencer and his followers held a similar rally in Charlottesville back in March, with far fewer people and far less conflict. The Royal White Knights of the KKK then held a rally in July to protest the statue removal. Around 50 protesters gathered, while nearly 1,000 counter-protesters encircled the Klansmen. As fights broke out, riot police descended upon the scene and dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
This Saturday, the conflict escalated.
The morning began peacefully, with the protesters assembling in McIntire Park, north of the downtown mall, while counter-protesters gathered at the First Baptist Church.
Around 11 am, protesters and counter-protesters alike came to Emancipation Park, where taunting broke out.
The violence increased as pepper spray filled the air and the police barricades toppled. By noon, the police declared an unlawful assembly and began to break up the protests.
One of the rally organizers, Jason Kessler, a right-wing blogger and self-proclaimed “white advocate,” complained that his group was “forced into a very chaotic situation.” He then said that “police were supposed to be there protecting us and they stood down.”
UVa President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement on Saturday afternoon. She stated: “We strongly condemn intimidating and abhorrent behavior intended to strike fear and sow division in our community. Acts of violence are not protected by the First Amendment.”
The numbers who turned out in protest of the statue’s removal indicate the increasing support that white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and pro-Confederacy groups have received in the past couple years. Alt-right groups began gaining attention during Trump’s early campaign days and have grown louder and more violent as time has gone on.
The violence seen today will surely escalate tensions between white nationalist groups and all those opposed. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called it “the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
RELATED: Two die in helicopter crash linked to Unite the Rally rally.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.
Reporting by: Jackson Kosmacki
Editing by: Liz Brown-Kaiser