CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (UPI) — Hundreds of torch-bearing white nationalists marched on the campus of the University of Virginia ahead of Saturday’s Unite the Right rally.
Police ultimately declared the Friday night march an unlawful assembly, as marchers who chanted “white lives matter,” “you will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” swung their torches in skirmishes with counterprotesters, the Daily Progress reported.
The brief march in Charlottesville came to an end when the two groups met at a statue of Thomas Jefferson, where attendees reported being pepper sprayed, at least one person was arrested and several were treated for minor injuries.
University president Teresa A. Sullivan condemned the march and the “intolerable” violence that occurred.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our Grounds this evening. I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including University personnel who were attempting to maintain order,” she said in a statement posted to the school’s Facebook account. “The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University’s values.”
In a news release Saturday, the university said police did not use pepper spray and instead maintained the pepper spray Friday night came from protesters. The school added that one protester was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer described the march as a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance.”
“Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: Not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Protesters at the Friday night march echoed sentiments of those who previously rallied against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.
White nationalists, neo-Nazis, members of the “alt-right,” and other groups who believe white Americans are being persecuted will gather for the Unite the Right rally in the park, formerly known as Lee Park, on Saturday.
The rally will be met with about 1,000 first responders and the National Guard will be on standby, as between 2,000 and 6,000 demonstrators, including protesters and counter-protesters, are expected to attend.
City Manager Maurice Jones said the event will mark the largest deployment of Virginia State Police officers in three decades.
“These are trying and difficult times for our city and our nation,” Jones said. “We have deep political and ideological differences, and those differences will play out here in our community this weekend. It will be stressful and it will be tense, but I’m optimistic that cooler heads will prevail and we will ultimately be stronger as a community once this event is over.”
The city tried to move the rally to a larger park away from the downtown area, but a federal judge ruled the rally could remain at Emancipation Park.
Written by UPI writer Daniel Uria
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