Violent clashes erupt at ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Virginia, state of emergency declared

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The governor of Virginia and officials in Charlottesville have declared a state of emergency Saturday morning ahead of the “Unite the Right” rally as tensions rose and small clashes broke out.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared the state of emergency after rally supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday morning.

City officials said the declaration allows them to request additional resources to respond to the clashes expected between hundreds of white supremacists and those opposing them.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler planned what he called a “pro-white” rally to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park.

The Virginia State Police tweeted that officers had made arrests following the unlawful assembly declaration. The National Guard has also been deployed. 

Local police estimated that at least 6,000 people are in attendance. Among those expected to attend are Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people.”

“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.

During the protests, First Lady Melania Trump tweeted: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville.”

The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also tweeted, condeming the protests. “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,” Ryan tweeted. “Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”

The NHL’s Detroit Red Wings released a statement Saturday denouncing the user of their logo at the rally and that they are considering legal action to stop it.

The team said it “vehemently” disagrees with and is not associated with the event.”

A Michigan-based white nationalist group called the Detroit Right Wings uses the Red Wings’ logo.

Clashes also broke out Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches. A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several people were injured. The school announced on Saturday that it would be canceling all scheduled events and programming today. They said the medical center would be open.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disappointed that the white nationalists had come to his town and blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”

The city also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named after Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. They are now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively. 

A group called the Monument Fund filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials. A judge has agreed to a temporary injunction that blocks the city from removing the statue for six months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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