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White nationalist rally in Virginia turns deadly

Washington Post
August 12. 2017 9:57PM
White supremacists clash with counter protesters during the “Unite the Right” rally organized by white nationalists. Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)



CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Chaos and violence turned to tragedy Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members - planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to "take America back" - clashed with counterprotesters in the streets and a car plowed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.

Hours later, two state police officers died when their helicopter crashed at the outskirts of town. Officials identified them as Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., who was the pilot, and H. Jay Cullen of Midlothian, Va., who was a passenger. State police said their Bell 407 helicopter was assisting with the unrest in Charlottesville. Bates died one day before his 41st birthday; Cullen was 48.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who had declared a state of emergency in the morning, said at an evening news conference that he had a message for "all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth."

Maurice Jones, Charlottesville's African American city manager, looked stricken as he spoke. "Hate came to our town today in a way that we had feared but we had never really let ourselves imagine would," he said.

In an emergency meeting Saturday evening, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to give police the power to enact a curfew or otherwise restrict assembly as necessary to protect public safety.

Video recorded at the scene of the car crash shows a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying - and then reversing at high speed, hitting yet more people. Witnesses said the street was filled with people opposed to the white nationalists who had come to town bearing Confederate flags and anti-Semitic epithets.

A 32-year-old woman was killed, according to police, who said they were investigating the crash as a criminal homicide. The driver of the Challenger was taken into custody and charges were pending, said Al Thomas, the Charlottesville police chief.

The car is registered to 20-year-old James Alex Fields of Ohio, according to vehicle registration records. Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer told The Post that a man with the same name and age was booked Saturday on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding, failure to stop for an accident involving a death, and hit-and-run.

Angela Taylor, a spokesman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, said 19 others were brought to the hospital in the early afternoon after the car barreled through the pedestrian mall. Five were in critical condition as of Saturday evening. Another 14 people were hurt in street brawls, city officials said.

Earlier, police evacuated a downtown park as rally-goers and counterprotesters traded blows and hurled bottles and chemical irritants at one another, putting an end to the noon rally before it officially began.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout downtown.

Elected leaders in Virginia and elsewhere urged peace, blasting the white supremacist views on display in Charlottesville as ugly. U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., called the display "repugnant."

President Trump, known for his rapid-fire tweets, remained silent throughout the morning. It was after 1?p.m. when he weighed in, writing on Twitter: "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!"

In brief remarks at a late-afternoon news conference in New Jersey to discuss veterans' health care, Trump said he was following the events closely. "The hate and the division must stop and must stop right now," Trump said, without specifically mentioning white nationalists or their views. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides."

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville Saturday, quickly replied. "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists," he wrote.

Even as crowds began to thin Saturday afternoon, the town remained unsettled and on edge. Onlookers were deeply shaken at the pedestrian mall, where ambulances had arrived to treat those injured by the car.

The Unite the Right rally was meant to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The city voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it remains in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park.


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