Virginia city rocked by white nationalist protests; 1 arrest

By  | 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- A car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white supremacist rally in downtown Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, ratcheting up the tension in an increasingly chaotic confrontation in this usually quiet college town.

It is unclear how many were injured; an Associated Press reporter saw at least one person on the ground receiving medical treatment immediately after the car careened into the line of several hundred people.

The Associated Press also reports a hospital official said one person has died and 19 people were injured after the car plowed into them.

Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A silver sedan smashed into another car, then backed up, plowing through “a sea of people.”

People scattered, running for safety in different directions, he said.

It happened about two hours after violent clashes broke out between white nationalists, who descended on the town to rally against the city’s plans to remove a statue of the Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee, and others who arrived to protest the racism.

Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. At least eight were injured and one arrested in connection to the earlier violence. It remains unclear if the driver of the car has been apprehended.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and police dressed in riot gear ordered people out.

Small bands of protesters who showed up to express their opposition to the rally were seen marching around the city peacefully by midafternoon, chanting and waving flags. Helicopters circled overhead.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally to protest the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove the confederate statue from a downtown park.

Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home.

Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend.

“This isn’t how he should have to grow up,” she said.

Cliff Erickson leaned against a fence and took in the scene. He said he thinks removing the statue amounts to erasing history and said the “counter-protesters are crazier than the alt-right.”

“Both sides are hoping for a confrontation,” he said.

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.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett released a statement Satuday on the violent protests in Charlottesville. He said, "Racism, bigotry and violence have no place in this country nor in our political process. The events occurring in Charlottesville today are something we cannot stand for as a nation. My father fought for this country; my uncle Roy died for this country. They fought for a nation built on the foundational ideal that ‘all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…’ The vast majority of people in East Tennessee and in the United States still share this belief, and I, like them, am sickened by the violence playing out today in a part of our country that is steeped in the history of our nation’s founding. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an American issue,
and I ask our community to join me in praying for Charlottesville."