UPDATE: State of emergency declared amid violence at Charlottesville rally
(CNN) — [Breaking news update, published at 12:37 p.m.]
Several pedestrians were struck Saturday in a three-vehicle crash in Charlottesville, Virginia, where police were dispersing demonstrators from a white-nationalist and right-wing rally, the Virginia State Police said on Twitter. There are “multiple injuries,” police said.
[Original story, published at 12:10 p.m.]
Virginia’s governor declared an emergency, and police worked to disperse hundreds of protesters in Charlottesville after clashes broke out ahead of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalists and other right-wing groups.
Fistfights and screaming matches erupted shortly before rally’s scheduled noon ET start. The skirmishes unfolded following a scuffle Friday night between torch-bearing demonstrators and counter-protesters at the nearby University of Virginia.
Saturday’s rally was the latest event drawing white nationalists and right-wing activists from across the country to this Democratic-voting college town — a development precipitated by the city’s decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past.
Here are the latest developments:
• President Donald Trump tweeted: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
• Police began to break up crowds shortly before noon after city officials declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly.” Police officers spoke on bullhorns, directing people to leave.
• The declaration was made after fistfights and screaming matches erupted in several locations late Saturday morning.
• Some protesters fired pepper spray at other demonstrators, state police said.
• Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency “to aid state response to violence,” according to a post on his Twitter account.
• An unspecified number of protesters have been arrested in Charlottesville, state police said.
By 1 p.m. ET, police had cleared the park where the rally was to be held. It wasn’t immediately clear how many demonstrators remained in other parts of the city.
“It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property,” McAullife said. “I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the fights, though tensions and rhetoric were running hot. At one point, a few dozen white men wearing helmets and holding makeshift shields chanted, “Blood and soil!” Later, another group chanted slogans like, “Nazi scum off our streets!”
People punched and kicked each other during various scuffles, which often were broken up from within crowds, without police intervention, CNN video shows.
Earlier, a group of clergy and other counter-demonstrators, including activist and Harvard professor Cornel West, held hands, prayed and sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”
Police presence was heavy, with more than 1,000 officers expected to be deployed, city officials said. Police anticipated the rally would attract as many as 2,000 to 6,000 people, and the Southern Poverty Law Center said it could be the “largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
White nationalists wield torches
Charlottesville, once home to Thomas Jefferson, is known as a progressive city of about 47,000 people. Eighty percent of its voters choose Hillary Clinton during last year’s election.
But far-right activists and Ku Klux Klan members have come here in recent months, outraged by the city’s intention to remove traces of its links to the Confederacy — including plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The effort developed amid a push by communities across the South to remove Confederate iconography from public property since the 2015 rampage killings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston by a self-described white supremacist.
Ahead of Saturday’s planned rally, tensions roiled Friday night as white nationalists — some holding what appeared to be backyard tiki-style torches — marched onto the University of Virginia’s campus.
Chanting, “Blood and soil” and “You will not replace us,” the group rallied around a statue of Thomas Jefferson before they clashed with counter-protesters, CNN affiliate WWBT reported. The group left the university’s grounds when police arrived and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
City and UVA officials condemned Friday’s march.