A Far-Right Gathering Bursts Into Brawls

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A reporter working for The New York Times in Charlottesville, Va., recounts what he saw on Saturday.

Charlottesville is the place where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison talked about freedom of speech. But this was a day of shouting, not listening.

Assigned to cover the “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalists, I stood in Emancipation Park at 9:15 a.m. Saturday and looked out at the gathering in front of me.

Initially, the mood was calm. Cornel West, the Harvard scholar, was linked arm in arm with about 20 clergy members, who had walked to the park from a sunrise service at a largely African-American church to counterprotest the demonstration by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Tom Perriello, a former congressman and a hopeful for governor, was there to oppose the rally, too.

But then brawls broke out. Protesters began to mace one another, throwing water bottles and urine-filled balloons — some of which hit reporters — and beating each other with flagpoles, clubs and makeshift weapons. Before long, the downtown area was a melee. People were ducking and covering with a constant stream of projectiles whizzing by our faces, and the air was filled with the sounds of fists and sticks against flesh.

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