Trump under fire as fascist violence erupts
One killed, 19 injured in clashes at white supremacist rally
CHAOS and violence turned to tragedy on 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 counter protesters in the streets and a car ploughed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.
Governor Terry McAuliffe, 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: 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.
In an emergency meeting on 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 recorded at the scene of the car crash shows a 2010 grey Dodge Challenger accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying – and then reversing at high speed, hitting yet 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, police said.
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.
Angela Taylor, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia Medical Centre, said 19 others were brought to the hospital in the early afternoon after the car barrelled through the pedestrian mall. Five were in critical condition. Another 14 people were hurt in street brawls, city officials said.
Elected leaders in Virginia and elsewhere urged peace, blasting the white supremacist views on display in Charlottesville as ugly. US House Speaker Paul Ryan, called the display “repugnant”.
But US President Donald Trump, known for his rapid-fire tweets, remained silent throughout the morning. It was after 1pm 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 violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”
In brief remarks at a late afternoon news conference in New Jersey, 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.”
The president’s tweet and statement were quickly questioned and protested. “There is only one side,” tweeted former vice-president Joe Biden.
Many Democrats were more critical of Trump. “The President’s talk of violence ‘on many sides’ ignores the shameful reality of white supremacism in our country today, and continues a disturbing pattern of complacency around such acts of hate,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
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 a hallmark of Trump’s presidential election campaign last year.