CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — A car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia Saturday, killing one person just hours after violent clashes between the opposing groups prompted Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency.
Mayor Mike Signer confirmed the fatality on Twitter Saturday afternoon.
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here,” Signer tweeted. “I urge all people of good will — go home.”
Charlottesville officials said one person was killed and 19 were injured when a vehicle barreled through dozens of people Saturday afternoon. Fifteen others were hurt in the rally.
The male driver is in police custody, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran tells CBS News.
Rally supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each before the rally kicked off Saturday morning.
Men dressed in militia uniforms were seen carrying shields and openly carrying long guns.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler planned what he called a “pro-white” rally to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park.
It’s the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city, about 100 miles outside of Washington, D.C., voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Lee from a downtown park.
In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group traveled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.
Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people.”
“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.
Between rally attendees and counter-protesters, authorities expected as many as 6,000 people, Charlottesville police said this week.
Among those expected to attend were Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which track extremist groups, said the event had the potential to be the largest of its kind in at least a decade.
Officials were preparing for the rally for months. Virginia State Police assisted local authorities, and a spokesman said the Virginia National Guard “will closely monitor the situation and will be able to rapidly respond and provide additional assistance if needed.”
Police instituted road closures around downtown, and many businesses in the popular open-air shopping mall opted to close for the day.
Both local hospitals said they had taken precautions to prepare for an influx of patients and had extra staff on call.
CBS affiliate WCAV’s Preston Willett reported that police deemed the gathering unlawful late Saturday morning and told people to disperse or they would be arrested.
Police in riot gear deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30 a.m.
Governor McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to aid the state’s response shortly before noon, when the rally was set to begin.
“I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours,” McAuliffe said in a statement. He said state troopers and the Virginia National Guard were providing support to local authorities.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump took to Twitter to bemoan the outbreak of violence Saturday.
“We ALL must be united and condemn all that hate stands for,” the president said. “There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate (without) hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence,” the first lady said.
CBS News reported there was also violence Friday night as a large crowd of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia’s campus carrying tiki torches and chanting “you will not replace us.”
Friday’s march began around 10 p.m. at an intramural field, and the crowd proceeded to a statue of President Thomas Jefferson on the UVA campus.
Jefferson founded the university in 1819.
Dozens alt-right activists, white nationalists and neo-Confederates chanted “white lives matter” as they faced off against counter-protesters at the statue, CBS affiliate WTVR-TV reports.
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