Mr. Kessler said his group had “networked with law enforcement officials” months ago on a plan for maintaining safety, which he said was not followed, and he called the police “underequipped for the situation.”
Mr. McAuliffe defended the police response, saying “It’s easy to criticize but I can tell you this, 80 percent of the people here had semiautomatic weapons.
“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army,” he added. “I was just talking to the State Police upstairs; they had better equipment than our State Police had,” he said, referring to the militia members. “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”
The governor’s remarks came after he met with law enforcement officials in a bank building on Charlottesville’s downtown mall. The mall, like the rest of the city, was quiet as people absorbed the violence that had descended on this ordinarily tranquil college community. People on the mall seemed shellshocked.
“There are no words,” said Chuck Moran, a Charlottesville native who runs a digital marketing agency. “We’ve been through a lot in this city. We have a historic past. But yesterday was a tragedy of unimaginable proportion to me.”
Home to the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, Charlottesville has become a target of white nationalists, who came to the city to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, from a city park.
The “Unite the Right” rally at the park, called Emancipation Park, was scheduled to start at noon, but when violent clashes erupted between the two sides at about 11 a.m., the police declared an unlawful assembly and moved to clear the park so that officers in riot gear could move in.
“The police moved when they felt it was appropriate,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “They had to give people an opportunity to clear out of the park so they sent the word first, before we come in.”