The white supremacist violence in Charlottesville began on Friday night, as thousands of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalists began descending on the city of Charlottesville to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. Hundreds of white men and women bearing torches marched on the University of Virginia campus and surrounded the statue of Thomas Jefferson on Friday night, chanting “You will not replace us” and “White lives matter.”
Thousands of counter-protesters also descended on Charlottesville over the weekend, including clergy, students, Black Lives Matter activists, and protesters with the anti-fascist movement known as “antifa.”
On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 white supremacists marched to the public park, recently renamed Emancipation Park, which is home to the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many were carrying Nazi flags and other white supremacist paraphernalia, wore body armor and carried assault rifles and pistols. They were met by the thousands of anti-racist counterdemonstrators.
Witnesses report police did little to intervene, even as fights broke out.
Around 1:45 p.m., a man named James Alex Fields, who had been rallying with the white supremacists earlier in the day, drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counterdemonstrators and then peeled away in reverse in what many are calling an act of terrorism.
A local paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed in the attack, and at least 19 others were injured. Heyer had repeatedly championed civil rights issues on social media. Her Facebook cover read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” This is Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, speaking NBC News.
Susan Bro: “And that’s what she was doing that day, yesterday, when she was killed. She was doing that with people. She was saying, 'Well, tell me why you're here.’ And I know this because this is what her friends told me. And that’s what Heather’s life was all about: passion for fairness, passion for equality, passion for justice.”
One of James Alex Fields’s high school teachers says he was obsessed with Adolf Hitler and Nazi military history and showed clear Nazi sympathies that the teacher tried unsuccessfully to steer him away from. Fields has been charged with one count of second-degree murder and is slated to be arraigned today.
Two state troopers, Pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, also died Saturday, when their helicopter crashed en route to the scene of the violence.
Photographs and videos also show white supremacists beating other counterdemonstrators, including a young African-American protester named Deandre Harris. He said, “They were trying to kill me out there. The police didn’t budge, and I was getting beat to a pulp.”
This is Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe condemning the violence.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe: “And I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you. You pretend that you’re patriots, but you are anything but a patriot.”