Virginia’s governor on Saturday told white supremacists, who had gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, to “go home” after three people were killed in violence at a rally and in a helicopter crash that police linked to the protest.
Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency after fights broke out between armor-clad, shield-carrying white nationalist demonstrators and similarly armed counterprotesters in Charlottesville.
“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,” McAuliffe said at a news conference. “You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”
McAuliffe said on Twitter that he declared the state of emergency “to aid state response to violence at alt-right rally in Charlottesville.”
“The acts and rhetoric in Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable and must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence,” he tweeted.
President Donald Trump, speaking at midafternoon from New Jersey, condemned “the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in Charlottesville.
Trump, who was preparing to sign a bill to extend a veterans health care program, called for a “swift restoration of law and order” in the city, adding “no citizen should ever fear for their safety and security.”
He did not answer questions from reporters after signing the bill, such as a reporter’s request for an explanation of what Trump meant by “many sides.”
Shortly after the rally had been canceled in Charlottesville, a car rammed into people in a street as they appeared to be leaving a counterprotest rally. Video showed some bodies flying in the air.
A 32-year-old woman was killed and about two dozen other people were injured.
Police said they had the driver of the car in custody, identifying him later Saturday as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio. Fields was being held on suspicion of second-degree murder.
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said on Twitter he was “heartbroken” about the death and urged all those still at the protest site to go home.
Hours later, Virginia state police said one of their helicopters had crashed in a wooded area outside the city, killing two troopers.
The incident involving the car occurred as people were leaving the area after police deemed the demonstration unlawful; multiple bouts of violence had broken out at the rally between demonstrators and counterprotesters.
Hundreds of protesters from both sides were involved in Saturday’s melee, throwing punches as well as water bottles and other items. Police used tear gas to separate participants.
The gathering at the University in Virginia, dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, had previously prompted McAuliffe to warn people to stay away from the campus.
In what they called a “pro-white” demonstration, torch-bearing white nationalists marched Friday night through the university campus and gathered around the statue of General Robert E. Lee, a Confederate Civil War hero. They shouted epithets and slogans such as “white lives matter,” a take on the grass-roots organization Black Lives Matter, which was created after several killings of black Americas by police officers.
The city voted in April to remove the statue, a move being taken by many U.S. cities against such Confederate memorials of the Civil War era. Since then, the city has been a focus of white nationalists.
Trump was criticized by members of both political parties for not specifying white nationalists in his comments about the violence in Charlottesville.
“We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. – OGH” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, said on Twitter.
“@POTUS needs to speak out against the poisonous resurgence of white supremacy. There are not ‘many sides’ here, just right and wrong,” Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said on Twitter.
Among the white supremacists at Saturday’s rally were alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke.
Duke said the rally “represents a turning point for the people of this country.”
“We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfull the promises of Donald Trump,” he added.
Signer, the Charlottesville mayor, said he blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudices during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president,” he told The Associated Press.
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