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Three dead as US white nationalists ignite clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia

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 Charlottesville: A gathering of hundreds of white nationalists in Virginia took a deadly turn when a car ploughed into a group of rival protesters and killed at least one person in a flare-up of violence that challenged US President Donald Trump.

Far-right protesters converged on the university town of Charlottesville at the weekend to demonstrate against a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, who headed the Confederate army in the American Civil War.


Car strikes crowd at white supremacists rally

Three people died and several more were injured in a violent rally in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Warning: Distressing content.

Rival groups fought pitched battles on Saturday using rocks and pepper spray.

After hours of clashes, a silver sedan driving at high speed ploughed into the crowd about two blocks from the park displaying the statue, killing a 32-year-old woman.

Video on social media and photographs showed the car hit a large group of counter-protesters, sending some flying into the air.

Police held James Alex Fields, jnr, a 20-year-old white man from Ohio on charges relating to the car incident, including second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of an accident that resulted in a death.

It was not clear why he was in Charlottesville.

The Virginia State Police announced late on 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.

Five people suffered critical injuries during the clashes and four had serious injuries from the car strike, officials said.

A civil rights investigation has been opened into the crash death, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the FBI’s Richmond field office said late on Saturday.

“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence,” they said in a joint statement.

Two members of the Virginia State Police, who were helping law enforcement, died when their helicopter crashed near a golf course in Charlottesville and burst into flames.

They were identified as Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Virginia.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared an emergency.

“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: go home,” Mr McAuliffe told a news conference.

“You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”

As midnight approached, the streets of Charlottesville had gone quiet.

The clashes highlight how the white supremacist movement has resurfaced under the “alt-right” banner after years in the shadows of mainstream American politics.

Mr Trump said “many sides” were involved, drawing fire from across the political spectrum for not specifically denouncing the far right. The violence presented Mr Trump with perhaps the first domestic crisis of his young administration.

“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Mr Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf course.

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

He made no reply to a reporter’s shouted question whether he had spoken out strongly enough against white nationalists.

Attorney-General Jeff Sessions also condemned the violence, vowing “the full support of the Department of Justice” for the US Attorney’s office.

Prominent Democrats, civil rights activists and some Republicans said it was inexcusable of the President not to denounce white supremacy.

“Mr President – we must call evil by its name,” Republican Senator Cory Gardner wrote on Twitter.

“These were white supremacists and this was domestic,” said Senator Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group charged with helping to get Republicans elected to the Senate.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the US House of Representatives, said in a tweet directed at the President: “Repeat after me, @realDonaldTrump: white supremacy is an affront to American values.”

Fighting broke out on Saturday in the city’s downtown, when hundreds of people, some wearing white nationalist symbols and carrying Confederate battle flags, were confronted by an almost equal number of counter-protesters.

The Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to allow the police chief to declare a curfew. No action on the move had been taken as midnight approached, Mayor Mike Signer said on his Facebook page.

The confrontation was a stark reminder of the growing political polarisation since Mr Trump’s election last year.

“You will not erase us,” chanted a crowd of white nationalists, while counter-protesters carried placards that read: “Nazi go home” and “Smash white supremacy”.

Scott Stroney, 50, a catering sales director at the University of Virginia who arrived at the scene of the car incident just after the crash, said he was horrified.

“I started to cry. I couldn’t talk for a while,” he said. “It was just hard to watch, hard to see. It’s heartbreaking.”

The violence began on Friday night, when hundreds of white marchers with blazing torches appeared at the campus in a display that critics called reminiscent of a rally by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan group.

David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was in Charlottesville for the rally, according to his Twitter account.

The rally was part of a long debate in the US South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.

The violence is the latest clash between far-rightists, some of whom have claimed allegiance to Mr Trump, and the President’s opponents since his inauguration in January, when black-clad anti-Trump protesters in Washington smashed windows, torched cars and clashed with police, leading to more than 200 arrests.

About two dozen people were arrested in Charlottesville in July when the Ku Klux Klan rallied against the plan to remove the Lee statue.

Torch-wielding white nationalists also demonstrated against the decision in May.

Reuters



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