Chaos in Char­lottesville

Plans for a right-wing rally blow up as white na­tion­al­ists clash with anti-racists in Vir­ginia.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Pearce, Robert Ar­men­gol and David S. Cloud

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE, Va. — At least three peo­ple were killed and 35 in­jured on a vi­o­lence-filled Sat­ur­day in Char­lottesville, Va., where white na­tion­al­ists had gath­ered for one of their largest ral­lies in at least a decade, only to see their event end in chaos and na­tional con­tro­versy.

Bloody street brawls broke out be­tween dozens of anti-racism ac­tivists and far-right at­ten­dees, many of whom car­ried shields, weapons and Nazi and Con­fed­er­ate flags. One woman was killed when a driver plowed a sports car into a crowd of pro­test­ers; he was ar­rested and charged with mur­der and other crimes. Two troop­ers died when a Vir­ginia State Po­lice he­li­copter crashed near the city af­ter mon­i­tor­ing the chaos.

By the end of the day, top po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cials around the na­tion, both Repub­li­cans and Democrats, were nearly unan­i­mous in de­nounc­ing racism and the vi­o­lence that stemmed from the rally, which was called off be­fore it could even be­gin.

But in a tele­vi­sion state­ment that drew crit­i­cism from many fel­low Repub­li­cans, as well as from Democrats, Pres­i­dent Trump blamed the vi­o­lence “on many sides.” As he did re­peat­edly dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump

avoided di­rect crit­i­cism of the na­tion’s bur­geon­ing white na­tion­al­ist move­ment, whose lead­ers have openly and re­peat­edly em­braced Trump’s pres­i­dency.

His po­si­tion drew wide­spread re­bukes. Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida, one of Trump’s ri­vals from last year’s race, said it would be “very im­por­tant” for the coun­try to hear Trump “de­scribe events in Char­lottesville for what they are, a ter­ror at­tack by white su­prem­a­cists.”

Demo­cratic Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was also blunt. “I have a mes­sage to all the white su­prem­a­cists and the Nazis who came into Char­lottesville to­day,” he said in a Sat­ur­day evening news con­fer­ence. “Go home. You are not wanted in this great com­mon­wealth. Shame on you.”

Sat­ur­day’s vi­o­lence in­volved po­lit­i­cal forces that have been build­ing on the left and the right for years, as anti-racism ac­tivists and white-power ad­vo­cates have bat­tled each other — on the In­ter­net and in­creas­ingly in the streets.

The orig­i­nal rea­son for Sat­ur­day’s “Unite the Right” rally was a bat­tle over Char­lottesville’s or­dered re­moval of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The statue is one of many Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols loathed by anti-racism ad­vo­cates but em­braced by many white South­ern­ers, who see them as part of their her­itage, as well as by white na­tion­al­ists, who be­lieve in a sep­a­rate na­tion for whites.

As the date drew nearer, white na­tion­al­ists and neoNazis made plans to travel from around the na­tion to at­tend and see move­ment lu­mi­nar­ies such as Richard Spencer, who sup­ported the pres­i­dent’s can­di­dacy in 2016 in large part due to his hard line on im­mi­gra­tion.

The night be­fore the main demon­stra­tion, scores of white na­tion­al­ists drew con­dem­na­tion as they marched through the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia cam­pus bear­ing Tiki torches and chant­ing, “Blood and soil!” — an old Nazi slo­gan — and “White lives mat­ter!”

They out­num­bered, sur­rounded and scuf­fled with a small group of anti-racist demon­stra­tors Fri­day.

Sat­ur­day was a dif­fer­ent story. Be­fore their rally could even be­gin, neo-Nazis, white na­tion­al­ists and other far-right fig­ures be­gan brawl­ing with large num­bers of op­pos­ing pro­test­ers.

White na­tion­al­ists in hel­mets and anti-racism pro­test­ers skir­mished, with some­one spray­ing what ap­peared to be a crowd-con­trol sub­stance at the coun­ter­protesters. Vir­ginia State Po­lice said pep­per spray was be­ing re­leased by crowd mem­bers.

The vi­o­lence led of­fi­cials to de­clare a state of emer­gency and shut down the event. An­gered, far-right lead­ers left the area. Some anti-racism ac­tivists burned Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flags cap­tured from their ad­ver­saries.

“Up un­til now, I’ve never had a feel­ing that my own gov­ern­ment is crack­ing down on me,” a shirt­less and damp-look­ing Spencer said in a livestream video af­ter he fled. He said that anti-racists had at­tacked him with pep­per spray and that he was kicked by po­lice of­fi­cers.

In a tweet to his al­lies, Spencer added: “My rec­om­men­da­tion: Dis­perse. Get out of Char­lottesville city lim­its.”

Pro­test­ers were ju­bi­lant, wav­ing flags call­ing for sol­i­dar­ity and chant­ing an­tiracist slo­gans such as “Black lives mat­ter!” A man in a clown suit held a poster that read, sim­ply, “Shame.”

Soon af­ter, the driver of a gray sports car with Ohio li­cense plates drove to­ward a crowd of pro­test­ers and ac­cel­er­ated sud­denly, plow­ing into at least a dozen peo­ple, send­ing bod­ies and per­sonal be­long­ings into the air.

Vic­tims cried out in pain while on­look­ers howled in shock and ran, yelling for med­i­cal help.

Within sec­onds, the sports car, its front bumper drag­ging on the ground, sped back­wards up the street, dis­ap­pear­ing around a cor­ner at the next block.

A 32-year-old woman who was in the cross­walk was killed, po­lice said. She is not be­ing iden­ti­fied while of­fi­cials work to no­tify her fam­ily. The Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica said two of their mem­bers were among the wounded.

When po­lice showed up af­ter sev­eral min­utes, they were met with an­gry cries from some in the crowd who felt the re­sponse was too slow.

The driver, iden­ti­fied by of­fi­cials as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, was de­tained shortly af­ter and was charged with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der, three counts of ma­li­cious wound­ing and one count of fail­ing to stop at an ac­ci­dent that re­sulted in a death. Of­fi­cials have not given a mo­tive or re­leased his po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, but on Sat­ur­day night an­nounced that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties had launched a civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent.

Shortly af­ter, two troop­ers died when a State Po­lice he­li­copter crashed in the woods out­side Char­lottesville. The wreck­age could be seen fully en­gulfed in flames in im­ages from lo­cal me­dia.

The vic­tims were iden­ti­fied as the pi­lot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Mid­loth­ian, Va.; and Berke M.M. Bates, 40, of Quin­ton, Va. Of­fi­cials do not sus­pect foul play.

In tele­vised re­marks, Trump re­marked on the “ter­ri­ble events” and said he con­demned “this egre­gious dis­play of ha­tred, big­otry and vi­o­lence, on many sides, on many sides.”

He added: “No mat­ter our color, creed, reli­gion or po­lit­i­cal party, we are all Amer­i­cans first .... So we’re go­ing to get this sit­u­a­tion straight­ened out in Char­lottesville, and we want to study it, and we want to see what we’re do­ing wrong as a coun­try.”

As more re­ports about the day’s ca­su­al­ties came in, Trump tweeted: “Con­do­lences to the fam­ily of the young woman killed to­day, and best re­gards to all of those in­jured, in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia. So sad!”

Lead­ers from around the coun­try chimed in with de­nun­ci­a­tions.

“Our hearts are with to­day’s vic­tims,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (RWis.) said in a tweet. “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its ter­ror­ism must be con­fronted and de­feated.”

“White su­prem­a­cists aren’t pa­tri­ots, they’re traitors,” tweeted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “Amer­i­cans must unite against ha­tred & big­otry.”

“The white na­tion­al­ist demon­stra­tion in #Char­lottesville is a rep­re­hen­si­ble dis­play of racism and ha­tred that has no place in our so­ci­ety,” tweeted Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.).

But Trump’s re­marks — es­pe­cially his blame for the vi­o­lence on “many sides” — drew par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cism.

“The vi­o­lence, chaos, and ap­par­ent loss of life in Char­lottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides,’ ” tweeted Vir­ginia Atty. Gen. Mark Her­ring, a Demo­crat. “It is racists and white su­prem­a­cists.”

“Mr. Pres­i­dent — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted Sen. Cory Gard­ner (R-Colo.). “Th­ese were white su­prem­a­cists and this was do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism.”

As events un­folded in the morn­ing, rally or­ga­nizer Ja­son Kessler blamed the chaos on the city’s re­cent at­tempts to re­strict the rally’s lo­ca­tion, dis­rupt­ing or­ga­niz­ers’ plans.

“There are so many peo­ple that have come in, that have been Maced in the eyes, like half of our speak­ers have been Maced,” Kessler said in a livestream video. “There’s not a … sin­gle Char­lottesville po­lice of­fi­cer out there pro­tect­ing our guys.”

Later in the evening, Kessler dis­avowed the driver who plowed through pro­test­ers but laid the re­spon­si­bil­ity for harm on the city.

“Char­lottesville has blood on its hands .... The po­lice stood down and re­fused to sep­a­rate the coun­ter­demon­stra­tors, and now peo­ple are dead,” he said.

Fear­ing more vi­o­lence, the City Coun­cil is­sued an emer­gency or­di­nance to give the po­lice chief power to is­sue a cur­few or re­strict peo­ple’s abil­ity to gather or drive out­side.

At First United Methodist Church, a few blocks from where the car ran into pro­test­ers, vol­un­teers opened the church to those seek­ing shel­ter, in­clud­ing wit­nesses who were still shaken.

“It was the most bru­tal scene I’ve ever seen,” said Izaac Ro­driguez, 22, whose friend, Jus­tice, was struck in the leg by the car.

Jen­nifer Rolf-Maloney, 24, of Vir­ginia Beach, had made a two-hour drive to join the counter-protest. She was in­spired by his­tory.

“Back in World War II, the Nazis came to power be­cause peo­ple turned a blind eye,” she said. “This is home­grown ter­ror­ism.”

Ryan M. Kelly Daily Progress

A CAR PLOWS into a group of anti-racists, killing one. Two Vir­ginia troop­ers mon­i­tor­ing events also died when their he­li­copter crashed.

Chip So­mod­ev­illa Getty Im­ages

PO­LICE force demon­stra­tors to leave the area af­ter a “Unite the Right” rally is can­celed amid vi­o­lence.

Chip So­mod­ev­illa Getty Im­ages

NEO-NAZIS, white na­tion­al­ists and mem­bers of the “alt-right,” at left, clash with counter-pro­test­ers in Char­lottesville, Va., be­fore the right-wing rally is shut down.

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