CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (UPI) — The mayor of Charlottesville, Va., said one person was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of protesters opposed to white nationalist rallies there.
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas called the incident “premeditated violence” and said it “is being treated as a criminal homicide investigation.” Cellphone video from witnesses showed the vehicle, a gray Dodge Challenger, driving at high speed into a narrow street crowded with protesters opposing the white nationalists who flooded Charlottesville for one of the movement’s largest rallies in years.
After entering the crowd, the car reversed back down the street striking additional pedestrians, revealing severe front-end damage and a smashed windshield.
Thomas said the male driver was arrested shortly after the incident. The vehicle’s license plate is visible in the video and The Washington Post reported it is registered to James Alex Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo. Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer confirmed to the newspaper Fields was booked on several charges, including suspicion of second-degree murder. He is being held without bail.
Thomas described the victim as a 32-year-old woman, but did not release her identity pending notification of her family. He said several others suffered injuries, including some deemed “life-threatening.”
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will — go home,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said on Twitter.
Another 14 people were injured in street brawls that erupted as the chaotic scene unfolded Saturday afternoon. In all, Thomas said “at least 35 people” had been treated for injuries suffered throughout the day.
In a related incident, two members of the Virginia State Police were killed when the helicopter they were using to monitor the protests from above crashed into a wooded area on the outskirts of Charlottesville, WTVR-TV reported. Officials did not release the officers’ names. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
President Donald Trump responded to the situation, initially on Twitter, condemning the violence: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” He spoke at greater length at a bill signing ceremony Saturday afternoon.
The violence happened after prominent members of the white nationalist movement called for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Officially, the rally was sparked by a decision to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park. Similar disputes have sparked local protests in cities across the South.
In Charlottesville, neo-Nazis waved swastika flags, sported Hitler T-shirts and carried signs advocating racism, xenophobia and homophobia. Members of the Ku Klux Klan attended in robes and hoods.
“Alt-right” figure Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke were among the leaders in attendance.
Counter-protesters wore shirts and carried signs for the Black Lives Mattermovement and other groups.
Presaging Saturday’s violence was another far-right rally Friday night at the campus of the University of Virginia, which included physical encountersbetween far-right protesters carrying torches and anti-racist counter-protesters.
After Friday’s events, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Saturday morning “to aid state response to violence at alt-right rally in Charlottesville” as authorities, including police and members of the National Guard, blocked off sections of the city and cleared Emancipation Park, home to the Civil War monument, the Daily Progress reported.
Officially, the rally never began, though the crowds from both sides clashed.
Police initially declared an unlawful assembly at Emancipation Park at 11:35 a.m., just before the scheduled noon start time for the rally. City officials expected thousands of demonstrators to attend.
Police used megaphones to order protesters out of the park.
Members of a self-described militia, dressed in camouflage and armed with long guns, said they intended to keep the peace between opposing protesters.
After the park was cleared, protesters carrying Confederate flags, Nazi symbols and other anti-Semitic signs marched to McIntire Park, a larger location where city officials had previously tried to move the rally. A number of smaller skirmishes took place there, as well.
The University of Virginia, where Friday’s torch-lit rally took place, canceled all scheduled events and programming on Saturday.
“Due to the ongoing public safety concerns in downtown Charlottesville and as a result of both the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle declaring a local state of emergency, the University of Virginia is cancelling all scheduled events and programming today effective at noon,” the university said.
Written by UPI writers Daniel Uria and Eric DuVall
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