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Events Surrounding White Nationalist Rally In Virginia Turn Fatal

Originally published on August 13, 2017 5:04 am

Updated Aug. 12 at 10:04 p.m. ET

Three people died and about 35 were injured in a day of violence that began with clashes at a white nationalist rally on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., Gov. Terry McAuliffe said.

One of those killed was a 32-year-old female pedestrian who was hit by a car that plowed into marchers, authorities said. The driver of the car, James Alex Fields is being held on charges including second degree murder. Police say he's from Ohio.

A short time after the violence erupted, a police helicopter crashed, killing two troopers. Virginia State Police said the helicopter was assisting law enforcement officers monitoring the rally, according to The Associated Press. The officers killed were Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Va. and trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40 of Quinton, Va.

Virginia State Police posted on Facebook that the helicopter crash in Albemarle County, where Charlottesville is located, occurred at approximately 5 p.m.

Gov. McAuliffe, speaking at a press conference, had a strong message for the white nationalist protesters: "Go home."

He added, "You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you. You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot."

In video posted to Twitter, a silver car with darkened windows can be seen speeding through the crowd and ramming another vehicle, sending people through the air. The car then goes into reverse while marchers chase it.

Police said the afternoon crash happened near the intersection of Fourth and Water streets.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer tweeted that one person had died in that crash.

Warning: The video in the tweet below is graphic.

Photos and video show multiple people being treated for injuries, and police can be seen securing the scene of the wreck.

The crash involved three cars and, in addition to the fatality, at least nine people were injured, according to the AP.

President Trump condemns "violence on many sides"

In a statement sandwiched between announcing and signing legislation to expand a veterans health care program, the president said he condemned "in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides."

"We have to respect each other, ideally we have to love each other," he said.

State of emergency declared

Virginia's governor had earlier declared a state of emergency as a result of violent clashes involving hundreds of protesters in Charlottesville.

The move came during a white nationalist rally planned in the small college town to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. On Saturday morning, protesters and counterprotesters faced off, kicking, punching, hurling water bottles at and deploying chemical sprays against one another.

Approximately 500 protesters were on-site, with more than double the amount of counterprotesters, according to reporter Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF and Radio IQ. She said some injuries had been reported.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, before offering protesters the option of being arrested or moving to another, larger location approximately 1 mile away, she told NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday.

The declaration by Gov. McAuliffe was made in order to "aid state response to violence" at the rally in the city about 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and home to the University of Virginia. The city's manager also declared a local emergency and police ordered people to disperse from the area around the statue, according to the AP.

The "Unite the Right" rally was expected to draw a lot of people from out of town. It follows last month's Ku Klux Klan rally, also in Charlottesville, that drew about 50 Klan members and about 1,000 counterprotesters.

Politicians react to Saturday morning's clashes

After the violent outbursts, politicians tweeted their disdain at the events in Charlottesville. Trump called on Americans to "come together as one."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the views of the white nationalists were "repugnant" and called for Americans to unite against "this kind of vile bigotry."

First lady Melania Trump called for people to "communicate [without] hate in our hearts."

NHL team logo used during white nationalist protest

In an odd side story, many of the white nationalist marchers were seen holding signs featuring the logo of the Detroit Red Wings, a historic hockey franchise in the NHL.

An anti-immigrant group called the Detroit Right Wings features a similar logo. A Twitter account that seemed to represent the group tweeted earlier in the week about attending Saturday's rally.

As images of marchers flaunting the logo began flooding social media, the team issued a swift statement in response.

"The Detroit Red Wings vehemently disagree with and are not associated in any way with the event taking place today in Charlottesville," the team said. "We are exploring every possible legal action as it pertains to the misuse of our logo in this disturbing demonstration."

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly added in an email to the AP, "This specific use is particularly offensive because it runs counter to the inclusiveness that our league values and champions."

Friday night protests turn violent

The clashes began Friday night, when far-right protesters carrying torches descended on the University of Virginia campus.

In a Facebook post about that march, Mayor Signer wrote, "I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus."

In the days leading up to Saturday's planned rally, there had been some back-and-forth about where it would be held.

The AP reported that a federal judge ordered Charlottesville to allow the rally to take place at its originally planned location downtown:

"U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad issued a preliminary injunction Friday in a lawsuit filed against Charlottesville by right-wing blogger Jason Kessler.

"The city announced earlier this week that the rally must be moved out of Emancipation Park to a larger one, citing safety reasons.

"Kessler sued, saying the change was a free speech violation. The judge wrote that Kessler was likely to prevail and granted the injunction."

After the ruling, The New York Times reported:

"Late Friday night, several hundred torch-bearing men and women marched on the main quadrangle of the University of Virginia's grounds, shouting, 'You will not replace us,' and 'Jew will not replace us.' They walked around the Rotunda, the university's signature building, and to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, where a group of counterprotesters were gathered, and a brawl ensued."

University President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement after Friday night's march.

"As President of the University of Virginia, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our Grounds this evening. I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including University personnel who were attempting to maintain order.

"Law enforcement continues to investigate the incident, and it is my hope that any individuals responsible for criminal acts are held accountable. The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University's values."

City officials and police say they are prepared for any violence. Gov. McAuliffe urged Virginians to stay away from the rally and placed the National Guard on standby. The guard released a statement saying it would "closely monitor the situation."

Earlier this week, All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro reported on Airbnb's decision to make it harder for people attending the rally to find places to stay. The company canceled the accounts of people it confirmed had used its platform to book lodging for the event. It says those people defy its community standards. Rally organizers say this should be grounds for a lawsuit.

Debate over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville began when an African-American high school student started a petition more than a year ago to have it removed. Lee, who was born in Virginia, commanded Confederate forces in the Civil War from 1862 until he surrendered in 1865.

NPR's Patricia Cole and Maquita Peters contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The governor of Virginia has declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville after a rally to protest the removal of a Confederate statue turned violent today. White nationalist demonstrators and counter protesters have been facing off on the streets of Charlottesville. We're joined now by Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF and Radio IQ in Charlottesville. Sandy, thanks for being with us.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Sure.

SIMON: You've been out at the scene today. What have you seen? What's been happening?

HAUSMAN: Well, the reality, Scott, is that this rally was supposed to start at noon. But people started showing up well before then. There were probably about 500 of these white supremacists who met in Emancipation Park. It's a small space that used to be known as Lee Park, and there is that statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback there. And as you mentioned, the city wants to get rid of it. And that's why these white supremacists decided they wanted to meet there.

The city wanted protesters to rally in a much bigger space, but the organizers sued. And yesterday, a federal judge ruled that under the First Amendment, they had that right - that the location was significant and part of their freedom of expression. There were also at least a thousand counter protesters who showed up. Some were very peaceful. A couple were passing out flowers and offering hugs. And the event has drawn a very large contingent of religious leaders. Local ministers put out a call for a thousand religious leaders to come to Charlottesville, and quite a few have shown up.

SIMON: Well, we're seeing horrifying pictures, I think really all over the world at the moment, of violence. What did you see? How did that begin?

HAUSMAN: Yeah, I wouldn't describe our situation as horrible. But certainly, it was not pleasant. What has happened is, initially, these white supremacists were meeting in the small park. They were surrounded by the counter protesters who were shouting some pretty hostile slogans at them. And parties of white supremacists would grab their shields and sort of waltz past the counter protesters, and there would be more shouting. And some fights did break out, and police used tear gas to break them up. There's quite a large cloud floating over this group.

And that was when the governor declared a state of emergency. It was about 11:30. And police labeled the Unite the Right an unlawful assembly. And they gave the demonstrators a choice. They could be arrested, or they could move to the larger park, which is about a mile away. And that's what they did. They marched over to the other park, and that's where they are right now. And I believe some National Guardsmen may have been deployed to that area along with local and county police and state police. So it's, you know, a tense situation. But so far, we've not had any serious injuries.

SIMON: Sandy, I think a lot of people think of Charlottesville as a place of, you know, wine bars and fair trade coffee shops and - very literary place...

HAUSMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...And progressive place. How are the people of Charlottesville reacting to being a dateline now?

HAUSMAN: Yeah, Charlottesville's not a town for activists. I mean, there are some here. But I'd say most people in this town would describe themselves as liberals, and they feel very badly about what's going on. And a couple of them actually organized a fundraiser to help immigrants and low-income African-American families. And the last time I checked, they had more than 500 pledges.

SIMON: Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF and Radio IQ from Charlottesville, thanks so very much for being with us.

HAUSMAN: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.