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Protest over Lee statue in Virginia turns violent

By Democrat-Gazette staff and wire reports

This article was originally published August 13, 2017 at 3:56 a.m. Updated August 13, 2017 at 3:56 a.m.

A car sends people flying Saturday as it plows into a crowd after a protest against white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va. The driver was arrested, officials said.

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Photos by The Associated Press

Torch-bearing white nationalists gather around a statue of Robert E. Lee during a demonstration Friday night in Charlottesville, Va.

White nationalists clash with counterprotesters Saturday in a Charlottesville, Va., street.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Violence flared Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists who had gathered to protest the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee monument clashed with counterprotesters, and a car plowed into a crowd, resulting in at least one death and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Shortly after the white nationalists were dispersed from a city park in Charlottesville, the car slammed into some counterprotesters near a downtown mall, killing a 32-year-old woman, Police Chief Al Thomas said. Some 35 people were injured, at least 19 of them because the car hit them, according to a spokesman for the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Witnesses said the gray sports car accelerated toward people moving along Fourth Street, near the mall. The impact hurled at least two people into the air.

"It was probably the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life," said Robert Armengol, who was at the scene reporting for a podcast he hosts with students at the University of Virginia. "After that it was pandemonium. The car hit reverse and sped, and everybody who was up the street in my direction started running."

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The car's driver was later identified by police as James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio. Police said Fields, 20, has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene of an accident. A bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The Justice Department announced Saturday night that it was opening a civil-rights investigation related to the vehicle death.

Also, Saturday afternoon, a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near a golf course and burst into flames. State police officials said in a statement that the helicopter was "assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation" when it crashed in a wooded area. The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Va., and Trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., died at the scene.

President Donald Trump mentioned the Charlottesville violence during a late-afternoon news conference held to discuss veterans health care. From his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump said he was closely following the events in Charlottesville.

"The hate and the division must stop and must stop right now," Trump said. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides."

After calling for the "swift restoration of law and order," he called for unity among Americans of "all races, creeds and colors."

His comments drew swift reactions. Democrats and some Republicans called on him to specifically denounce white supremacy and racially motivated hate.

"POTUS needs to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy. There are not "many sides" here, just right and wrong," U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a Twitter post.

Similarly, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a Twitter post, "Very important for the nation to hear potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."

Vice President Mike Pence supported the president's speech, saying on Twitter, "As POTUS Trump said, 'We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation ... & true affection for each other.'"

MARCH TURNS VIOLENT

The Charlottesville demonstration, which organizers and critics said was the largest gathering of white nationalists in recent years, was organized to protest the planned removal of Lee's statue from a city park that once bore his name but is now named Emancipation Park.

Lee, who was born in Virginia, commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War.

The events in Charlottesville began Fright night with a march by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia.

One of the marchers wore an "Arkansas Engineering" shirt and held a lighted tiki torch. In a tweet Saturday that included a photo of that marcher, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said UA values freedom of speech but condemns "hatred, violence & white supremacy."

"Diversity & inclusion are @Uarkansas values," he wrote in a Twitter post. "Not this."

In a statement on its Facebook page, the UA College of Engineering said, "While we cannot control what someone buys or wears, we will stand strong on our values and will continue to support all students regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity."

Saturday morning started peacefully in Charlottesville. The white nationalist protesters gathered in McIntire Park, outside downtown.

Counterdemonstrators -- including Harvard University professor and political activist Cornel West -- gathered at the historically black First Baptist Church near campus. West addressed the group at a sunrise prayer service, saying he was present "bearing witness to love and justice in the face of white supremacy."

At McIntire Park, the white nationalists waved Confederate flags and other banners. As a photographer took pictures, one of them identified himself as Ted and indicated he didn't mind his picture being taken, saying he might want to run for political office some day. He said he was from Missouri and "tired of seeing white people pushed around."

By 11 a.m., both groups had made their way to Emancipation Park, and the scene exploded into taunting, shoving and outright brawling.

Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets, and carrying shields and torches, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue and began chanting phrases like "You will not replace us" and "Jews will not replace us."

Then, hundreds of counterprotesters -- including religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fascist groups known as "antifa" -- surrounded the white nationalists, singing spirituals, chanting and carrying their own signs.

Barricades encircling the park and separating the two groups began to fall, and police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air.

Declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, police cleared the area before noon, and Virginia National Guard troops arrived as officers began arresting some people who remained. Fears lingered that the melee would start again nearby, as demonstrators dispersed into smaller groups.

After the white nationalists had left, and a crowd of counterdemonstrators was moving jubilantly near the mall, the gray sports car accelerated into the crowd.

Within an hour, government leaders -- including Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- had condemned the violence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Justice Department agents would support local and state officials in investigating the melee.

"This kind of violence is totally contrary to American values and can never be tolerated," Sessions said in a statement.

After the white nationalists' rally, its organizer, Jason Kessler, who calls himself a "white advocate," complained in an interview that his group had been "forced into a very chaotic situation." He added, "The police were supposed to be there protecting us, and they stood down."

BRACING FOR TROUBLE

The white nationalists' Charlottesville protest, billed as a "Unite the Right" rally, was the culmination of a year and a half of debate in Charlottesville over the Lee statue. The movement to remove it began when a black high school student in the city started a petition.

The City Council voted 3-2 in April to sell the statue, but a judge issued an injunction temporarily stopping it.

As controversy over the statue intensified, the city braced for trouble. On Friday night, hundreds of white nationalists marched on the picturesque grounds of the University of Virginia, which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. The group included prominent white nationalist figures like Richard Spencer and David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

"We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump" to "take our country back," Duke told reporters Saturday. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried Trump campaign signs.

Duke lambasted Trump later in the day after the president condemned Saturday's violence.

University officials said one person was arrested Friday night and charged with assault and disorderly conduct, and several others were injured. Among those injured was a university police officer hurt while making the arrest, the university said in a statement.

City leaders declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville around 11 a.m. Saturday, citing an "imminent threat of civil disturbance, unrest, potential injury to persons, and destruction of public and personal property."

McAuliffe followed with his own declaration an hour later.

"I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours," he said in a statement.

Information for this article was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Brian M. Rosenthal, Hawes Spencer and Alan Feuer of The New York Times; Joe Heim, Ellie Silverman, T. Rees Shapiro, Sarah Larimer and Emma Brown of The Washington Post; Sarah Rankin, Alan Suderman, Heidi Brown and Claire Galofaro of The Associated Press; and by Gavin Lesnick of Arkansas Online.

A Section on 08/13/2017

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RBear says... August 13, 2017 at 6:17 a.m.

The incident in Charlottesville and the events that followed highlights the how bad racial issues have gotten. There are so many facets to this incident that need to be addressed. To start with, this municipality has every right to remove the statue. It is not a part of history. Statues aren't history. Statues are intended to honor individuals or events. Honoring rebellious generals who fought to uphold slavery venerates them and provides a rally point for racists. It is time we take down those statues. History is only changed when we attempt to rationalize why our nation engaged in a civil war that saw more loss of life than any war our country has ever engaged in.
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White nationalists came to Charlottesville with the intention of causing problems. These protesters came to the city and started by marching through UVA with torches chanting "blood and soil," violently confronting a small group of students who opposed them. The next day, counterprotesters were not going to let the white nationalists have the upper hand and opposed them. While the confrontations were aggressive, no one was killed or severely injured.
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It was only later when counterprotesters were leaving and walking through the downtown mall area, a pedestrian friendly section of the city, did a protester from out of state drive his car into the crowd, killing one person and injuring many. It highlighted the intentions of these protesters, taking the protests to violent levels.
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But what really highlighted the issues we face is the response of our president on this matter. At a time the nation needed him to truly acknowledge the wrong of white nationalists and distance himself from them, he condemned "all sides" for the problems in Charlottesville. During the campaign, he would often chastise Clinton and others for not calling out "radical Islamic terrorists." Yet when terrorism happens on our own soil by white nationalists, Trump blames "all sides."
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While this may rally his base, and it has with some of the comments I've seen here and other places, it distances him from the vast majority of America and even key members of his own party. They saw the need to call this out. He didn't and the silence from the WH is deafening.

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PopulistMom says... August 13, 2017 at 8:10 a.m.

Thank you, RBear. Thanks also to John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Orrin Hatch who have denounced these white supremacists at a time when our president blames "all sides." Most of the neo-nazis and white supremacists who marched were Trump supporters, and many mentioned his name as part of the movement to "take back America." The actions of these haters (most of whom appeared to be from out-of-state) should have no reflection on Charlottesville, where I went to college, which is a progressive and open minded college town.

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TimberTopper says... August 13, 2017 at 8:24 a.m.

Too bad the Bush crowd beat McCain out when they did. He'd have made a much better POTUS than Bush did.

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WGT says... August 13, 2017 at 8:30 a.m.

RBear is right. Well said. Trump displays his heartless direction by the choice of words he used to comment. The display of protest is a culturally ingrained habit/abscess, at the boiling point. Trump must completely denounce the event as a terroist attack.

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BOLTAR says... August 13, 2017 at 8:38 a.m.

As did Hitler and Mussolini, the Fascist President inspires right-wing violence and murder and then provides cover for his racist followers by deploying the absurd false-equivalence fallacy. In German and Italy, the scapegoats were Jews, but today's American Fascists glorify slavers and attack black people.

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skeptic1 says... August 13, 2017 at 9:27 a.m.

This is Obama's legacy, he should have been the ultimate racial uniter, instead he set back race relations 50 years. Inviting Black Lives Matter to the White House, saying if he had a son he'd look like Trevon Martin, and even now in light of all that is going on in the world he put his golf club down only to make a comment about this incident.

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RaylanGivens says... August 13, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

Scumbags pure and simple

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Packman says... August 13, 2017 at 10:08 a.m.

President Trump is no more or less to blame for Charlottesville than BH Obama was to blame for the multiple Michael Brown race riots. Anyone that says otherwise is a moron.
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The views expressed by these racist morons are repugnant and reprehensible but allowed by the 1st Amendment. This violence was totally unnecessary and provoked by the antifa protestors. The racists should be allowed to peaceably assemble. The antifa should let them. None of this would have happened if the antifa would learn to play nice.
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And in 3,2,1 I will be called a racist and/or racist sympathizer for making a very valid point that has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with common sense and the 1st Amendment.

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ARMNAR says... August 13, 2017 at 10:09 a.m.

Hey, if the hood fits...

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drs01 says... August 13, 2017 at 10:24 a.m.

This is madness. The pigeons are pissed that a statue might be removed from a city park. But even the pigeons will crap on any statue, even MLK, BHO or Bill Clinton. And 20 years from now (if there is still a USA) radicals will want to remove park names, statues, and historical references to the likes of whatever they "feel" offensive. And the poor pigeons will have to find somewhere else to crap.

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