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White nationalist rally leaves three dead, dozens injured

SARAH RANKIN | 8/21/2017, 11:32 a.m.
A car rammed into a crowd of protesters and a state police helicopter crashed into the woods Saturday as tension ...
People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia., Aug. 12, 2017. There were several hundred protesters marching in a long line when the car drove into a group of them. Ryan M. Kelly of The Daily Progress

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – A car rammed into a crowd of protesters and a state police helicopter crashed into the woods Saturday as tension boiled over at a White supremacist rally. The violent day left three dead, dozens injured and this usually quiet college town a bloodied symbol of the nation’s roiling racial and political divisions.

The chaos erupted around what is believed to be the largest group of White nationalists to come together in a decade – including neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan – who descended on the city to “take America back” by rallying against plans to remove a Confederate statue. Hundreds came to protest against the racism. There were street brawls and violent clashes; the governor declared a state of emergency, police in riot gear ordered people out and helicopters circled overhead.

Peaceful protesters were marching downtown, carrying signs that read “Black lives matter” and “love.” A silver Dodge Challenger suddenly came barreling through “a sea of people” and smashed into another car, said Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student.

The impact hurled people into the air and blew off their shoes. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed as she crossed the street.

“It was a wave of people flying at me,” said Sam Becker, 24, sitting in the emergency room to be treated for leg and hand injuries.

Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety. Video caught the car reversing, hitting more people, its windshield splintered from the collision and bumper dragging on the pavement. Medics carried the injured, bloodied and crying, away as a police tank rolled down the street.

The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who recently moved to Ohio from where he grew up in Kentucky, was charged with second-degree murder and other counts. Field’s mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn’t know it was a White supremacist rally.

“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a White supremacist,” said Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally.

“He had an African American friend so ...,” she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she’d be surprised if her son’s views were that far right.

His arrest capped off hours of unrest. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. Some came prepared for a fight, with body armor and helmets. Videos that ricocheted around the world on social media showed people beating each other with sticks and shields.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, both Democrats, lumped the blame squarely on the rancor that has seeped into American politics and the White supremacists who came from out of town into their city, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation.

“There is a very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics that we’ve all seen too much of today,” Signer said at a press conference. “Our opponents have become our enemies, debate has become intimidation.”