White nationalists are clashing with police and counter-protesters at a demonstration in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
The city and county issued a declaration of local emergency for Charlottesville city and county, when the scene turned violent well before the “Unite the Right” rally, scheduled for noon, officially began. The city said two people were treated for serious but non-life-threatening emergencies from altercations by 10:30 a.m. Counter-protesters also flooded the area to demonstrate their disdain for the protesters’ message.
Police deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30 a.m. The rally was scheduled to kick off at noon.
The police department declared a local emergency, freeing up resources for local officials.
The rally comes shortly after a large group of torch-bearing white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia (UVA) campus Friday night, after a judge issued a ruling allowing Saturday’s protest to move forward.
Some protesters were armed and dressed in a military-like fashion, while others wore shirts with Nazi meaning, such as shirts with quotes from Adolf Hitler, according to videos and pictures from attendees. Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell said the police expect between 2,000 and 6,000 protesters and counter-demonstrators. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said the Virginia National Guard will be “standing by to respond if needed.”
Since Thursday, the Unite the Right rally has been involved in a legal battle regarding the place of this protest.
Citing crowd safety concerns, the city of Charlottesville approved a protest permit earlier this week for the event to specifically be held in a different larger park instead of the smaller Emancipation Park where the Lee statue stands.
Rally organizer Jason Kessler, who calls his views “pro-white,” told CBS News that he believed the city’s decision was “unconstitutional” and that the move was discriminatory.
Late Friday night, a U.S. district court judge in Charlottesville agreed. In the ruling, Judge Glen E. Conrad said the city’s “11th-hour decision” to revoke the permit was “based on the content of [Kessler’s] speech rather than other neutral factors.”
Kessler was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute.
Several alt-right members were invited to speak at the rally including white nationalist Richard Spencer. Many credit Spencer with popularizing the term “alt-right” as he garnered national media attention after being heard shouting “Hail Trump!” at a white nationalist convention in Washington, D.C., and later, being punched in the face on Inauguration Day while giving an interview.
Teresa Sullivan, UVA’s president, denounced the march in a statement issued Friday.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our Grounds this evening,” she said. “The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University’s values.”