Car rams crowd at protest; 1 killed
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.» Chaos and violence turned to tragedy Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-nazis and Ku Klux Klan members --- planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets and a car plowed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.
Hours later, two state police officers died when their helicopter crashed at the outskirts of town. Officials identified them as Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., who was the pilot, and H. Jay Cullen of Midlothian, Va., who was a passenger. State police said their Bell 407 helicopter was assisting with the unrest in Charlottesville. Bates died one day before his 41st birthday; Cullen was 48.
Gov. Terry Mcauliffe. a Demo-
crat, who had declared a state of emergency in the morning, said at an evening news conference that he had a message for “all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth.”
Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s African-american city manager, looked stricken as he spoke. “Hate came to our town today in a way that we had feared, but we had never really let ourselves imagine would,” he said.
State and local officials declined to take reporters’ questions and abruptly left after making statements.
In an emergency meeting Saturday evening, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to give police the power to enact a curfew or otherwise restrict assembly as necessary to protect public safety.
Video of the car crash shows a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying — and then reversing at high speed, hitting more people. Witnesses said the street was filled with people opposed to the white nationalists who had come to town bearing Confederate flags and anti-semitic epithets.
A 32-year-old woman was killed, according to police, who said they were investigating the crash as a criminal homicide.
The driver of the Challenger, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit-and-run attended failure to stop with injury, police said. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Mon- day, Albemarle-charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer said.
U.S. officials late Saturday opened a civil rights investigation into the incident. In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”
Police made three other arrests in connection with violence earlier in the day, on charges of assault and battery, disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon.
Records show Fields last lived in Maumee, about 15 miles southwest of Toledo.
Fields’ father was killed by a drunk driver a few months before the boy’s birth, according to an uncle who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His father left him money that the uncle kept in a trust until Fields reached adulthood.
“When he turned 18, he demanded his money, and that was the last I had any contact with him,” the uncle said.
Fields, he said, grew up mostly in Northern Kentucky, where he had been raised by a single mother who was a paraplegic. The uncle, who saw Fields mostly at family gatherings, described his nephew as “not really friendly, more subdued.”
Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn’t know it was a white supremacist rally.
“I thought it had something to do with (President Donald) Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” Bloom said.
Angela Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, said 19 others were brought to the hospital in the early afternoon after the car barreled through the pedestrian mall. Five were in critical condition as of Saturday evening. Another 14 people were hurt in street brawls, city officials said.
Earlier, police evacuated a downtown park as rallygoers and counterprotesters traded blows and hurled bottles and chemical irritants at one another, putting an end to the noon rally before it officially began.
Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout downtown, including the pedestrian mall at Water and Fourth streets where the Challenger slammed into counterprotesters and two other cars in the early afternoon, sending bystanders running and screaming.
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here,” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said in a tweet. “I urge all people of good will — go home.”
Elected leaders in Virginia and elsewhere urged peace, blasting the white supremacist views on display in Charlottesville as ugly. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-wis., called the display “repugnant.”
But Trump, known for his rapid-fire tweets, remained silent throughout the morning. It was after 1 p.m. when he weighed in, writing on Twitter: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of vio- lence in America. Lets come together as one!”
In brief remarks at a lateafternoon news conference in New Jersey to discuss veterans’ health care, Trump said he was following the events in Charlottesville closely. “The hate and the division must stop and must stop right now,” Trump said, without specifically mentioning white nationalists or their views. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville on Saturday, quickly replied. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he wrote.
Dozens of the white nationalists in Charlottesville were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats. Asked by a reporter in New Jersey whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, Trump did not respond.
Chan Williams, 22, was among the counterprotesters at the pedestrian mall, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” The marchers blocked traffic, but Williams said drivers weren’t annoyed. Instead, she said, they waved or honked in support.
So when she heard a car engine rev up and saw the people in front of her dodging a moving car, she didn’t know what to think.
“I saw the car hit bodies, legs in the air,” she said. “You try to grab the people closest to you and take shelter.”
Williams and friend George Halliday ducked into a shop with an open door and called their mothers immediately. An hour later, the two were still visibly upset.
“I just saw shoes on the road,” said Halliday, 20. “It all happened in two seconds.”
Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally was meant to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The city of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it remains in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.
Tensions began to escalate Friday as hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus, chanting “White lives matter,” “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
They were met by counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the university. One counterprotester apparently deployed a chemical spray, which sent about a dozen rallygoers in search of medical assistance.
On Saturday morning, people in combat gear — some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs, sticks and makeshift shields — fought one another on downtown streets, with little apparent police interference.
Both sides sprayed chemical irritants and hurled plastic bottles through the air.
A large contingent of Charlottesville police officers and Virginia State Police troopers in riot gear were stationed on side streets and at nearby barricades but did nothing to break up the melee until about 11:40 a.m.
Using megaphones, police then declared an unlawful assembly and gave a five-minute warning to leave Emancipation Park.
“The worst part is that people got hurt and the police stood by and didn’t do a g------ thing,” said David Copper, 70, of Staunton, Va.
People fly into the air as a vehicle plows into a group of counterprotesters demonstrating against a rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. One person was killed and 19 were injured.
Battle lines form between white nationalists, neo-nazis and members of the “altright” and counterprotesters at the entrance to Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.