CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – U.S. authorities on Sunday are investigating the outbreak of violence in Virginia following a white nationalist rally that killed one person and injured more than 30, presenting U.S. President Donald Trump with a major domestic challenge.
The violence in the Southern college town of Charlottesville on Saturday was widely condemned, with many politicians and activists on both the left and right also criticizing Trump, a Republican, for waiting too long to address it and when he did so, failing to explicitly condemn the white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.
Virginia police have not yet provided a motive for a man plowing a car into a crowd of people objecting to the white nationalists, but U.S. attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation into the crash, an FBI field office said.
Four people have been arrested, including James Fields, a 20-year-old white man from Ohio who is being held in jail on suspicion of crashing the car. The vehicle killed a 32-year-old woman and injured 19 people, five of them critically.
Federal authorities were also looking into a helicopter crash on Saturday that killed two Virginia state policemen aiding efforts to quell the clashes.
On Sunday morning, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, appealed on Twitter for Americans to “be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.” She also posted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party’s Senate election effort, called on the president to condemn “white supremacists” and to use the term.
“Calling out people for their acts of evil – let’s do it today – white nationalist, white supremacist,” Gardner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “We will not stand for their hate.”
An organizer of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee’s statue from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down.
“Absolutely we are going to have further demonstrations in Charlottesville because our constitutional rights are being denied,” said Jason Kessler, whom civil rights groups identified as a white nationalist blogger. He did not specify when.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared an emergency and halted Saturday’s planned rally, but that did not stop the violence.
About 15 people were injured after rival groups fought pitched battles using fists, rocks and pepper spray.
“There is no place for you here,” McAuliffe said, addressing white supremacists. “There is no place for you in America.”
The rally stemmed from a long debate in the U.S. South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over slavery.
Trump said on Saturday that there was more than one side to the Charlottesville incidents. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he told reporters at his New Jersey golf course.
He did not specifically mention or fault the role of white nationalists.
On Sunday, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert defended Trump’s response. “I think declaring racial bigotry unacceptable is a very smart and calming thing for the president to do,” Bossert said on CNN. “It’s not meant not to condemn hate.”
The Charlottesville violence is the latest clash between far-rightists, some of whom have claimed allegiance to Trump, and the president’s opponents. At his January inauguration, 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 in May against the removal.
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lucia Mutikani in Washington, James Oliphant in New Jersey and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Chris Michaud and Grant McCool; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Lisa Von Ahn