3 dead in violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

A state of emergency has been declared

3 dead in violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

A car rammed into a crowd of protesters and a state police helicopter crashed into the woods Saturday as tension boiled over at a white supremacist rally. The violent day left three dead, dozens injured and this usually quiet college town a bloodied symbol of the nation’s roiling racial and political divisions.

The chaos erupted around what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade — including neo-Nazis, skinheads, members of the Ku Klux Klan — who descended on the city to “take America back” by rallying against plans to remove a Confederate statue. Hundreds came to protest against the racism. There were street brawls and violent clashes; the governor declared a state of emergency, police in riot gear ordered people out and helicopters circled overhead. One crashed, killing two Virginia State troopers.

Peaceful protesters were marching downtown, carrying signs that read “black lives matter” and “love.” A silver Dodge Challenger suddenly came barrelling through “a sea of people” and smashed into another car, said Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student.

The impact hurled people into the air and blew off their shoes. A 32-year-old woman was killed as she crossed the street.

“It was a wave of people flying at me,” said Sam Becker, 24, sitting in the emergency room to be treated for leg and hand injuries.

Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety. Video caught the car reversing, hitting more people, its windshield splintered from the collision and bumper dragging on the pavement. Medics carried the injured, bloodied and crying, away as a police tank rolled down the street.

The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who recently moved to Ohio from where he grew up in Kentucky, was charged with second-degree murder and other counts. Field’s 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 Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” said Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally

“He had an African-American friend so …,” she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she’d be surprised if her son’s views were that far right.

His arrest capped off hours of unrest. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. Some came prepared for a fight, with body armour and helmets. Videos that ricocheted around the world on social media showed people beating each other with sticks and shields.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, both Democrats, lumped the blame squarely on the rancour that has seeped into American politics and the white supremacists who came from out of town into their city, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation.

“There is a very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics that we’ve all seen too much of today,” Signer said at a press conference. “Our opponents have become our enemies, debate has become intimidation.”

Some of the white nationalists at Saturday’s rally cited President Donald Trump’s victory after a campaign of racially-charged rhetoric as validation for their beliefs.

Trump criticized the violence in a tweet Saturday, followed by a press conference and a call for “a swift restoration of law and order.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.

The “on many sides” ending of his statement drew the ire of his critics, who said he failed to specifically denounce white supremacy and equated those who came to protest racism with the white supremacists. The Rev. Jesse Jackson noted that Trump for years questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship and his legitimacy as the first black president, and has fanned the flames of white resentment.

“We are in a very dangerous place right now,” Jackson said. McAuliffe said at Saturday’s press conference that he spoke to Trump on the phone, and insisted that the president must work to combat hate.

Trump said he agreed with McAuliffe “that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities will pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions wrote. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinheads and KKK factions. The white nationalist organizations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the National Socialist Movement; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights also were on hand, he said.

“We anticipated this event being the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade,” Segal said. “Unfortunately, it appears to have become the most violent as well.”

On the other side, anti-fascist demonstrators also gathered, but they generally aren’t organized like white nationalist factions, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In addition to Fields, at least three more men were arrested in connection to the protests

The Virginia State Police announced late Saturday that Troy Dunigan, a 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, a 21-year-old from Louisa, Virginia, was charged with assault and battery; and James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

Just as the city seemed like to be quieting down, black smoke billowed out from the tree tops just outside of town as a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed into the woods.

Robby E. Noll, who lives in the county just outside Charlottesville, heard the helicopter sputtering.

“I turned my head to the sky. You could tell he was struggling to try to get control of it,” he said.

He said pieces of the helicopter started to break off as it fell from the sky.

Both troopers onboard, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, one day shy of his 41st birthday, were killed. Police said the helicopter had been deployed to the violent protests in the city, which has been caught in the middle of the nation’s culture wars since it decided earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, enshrined in bronze on horseback in the city’s Emancipation Park.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally. Spencer returned for Saturday’s protest, and denied all responsibility for the violence. He blamed the police.

Signer said the white supremacist groups who came into his city to spread hate “are on the losing side of history.”

“Tomorrow will come and we will emerge,” he said, “I can promise you, stronger than ever.”

Four-hundred miles away, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, hinted that the white supremacists might get the opposite of what they’d hoped for.

Mayor Jim Gray announced on Twitter that he would work to remove the confederate monument at his county’s courthouse.

“Today’s events in Virginia remind us that we must bring our country together by condemning violence, white supremacists and Nazi hate groups,” he wrote. “We cannot let them define our future.”

___

Associated Press writers Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, Heidi Brown in Charlottesville, Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, and John Seewer in Maumee, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Several Abbotsford citizens and athletes have participated in the SOBC’s Polar Plunge fundraiser campaign. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford residents taking the Polar Plunge for SOBC

Local Michelle Hill jumping into Albert Dyck Park on Saturday, several others also taking part

Passengers aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914 - Library and Archives Canada image
Abbotsford council is asked to rename street in memory of Komagata Maru victims

Most of 376 the passengers aboard ship were denied entry into Canada in 1914

Last year’s Gift of Love Gala for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice was held Feb. 29, 2020 at Abbotsford Centre. The 2021 version goes virtual. (File photo by Lindsay Elliott)
Gift of Love Gala for Canuck Place goes virtual for 2021

Event normally held in Abbotsford each year takes place online on Feb. 27

A conceptual drawing shows the plans for a new transit exchange on Montrose Avenue, looking north from McDougall Avenue.
City of Abbotsford seeks federal funding for Montrose transit exchange

BC Transit to apply for grant to cover 80% of estimated $5.2 million cost

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Most Read