A gathering of hundreds of white nationalists in Virginia took a deadly turn yesterday when a car ploughed into a group of counter-protesters and killed at least one person in a flare up of violence that challenged United States President Donald Trump.
The State’s governor blamed neo-Nazis for sparking the unrest in the college town of Charlottesville, where rival groups fought pitched battles using rocks and pepper spray after far-right protesters converged to demonstrate against a plan to remove a statue to a Confederate war hero.
A car slammed into a crowd of people, killing a 32-year-old woman, police said. Video on social media and photographs showed the car hit a large group of counter-protesters, sending some flying into the air.
Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation into the death.
Two Virginia policeman died in a helicopter crash nearby after assisting efforts to quell the clashes.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, declared an emergency and halted a white nationalist rally, while President Donald Trump condemned the violence.
The clashes highlight how the white supremacist movement has resurfaced under the “alt-right” banner after years in the shadows of mainstream American politics.
Trump said “many sides” were involved, drawing fire from across the political spectrum for not specifically denouncing the far right. The violence presented Trump with perhaps the first domestic crisis of his young administration.
“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf course.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
Police held a man from Ohio on charges relating to the car incident, including second-degree murder, said Martin Kumer, Albemarle Charlottesville’s regional jail superintendent.
The suspect was James Alex Fields junior, a 20-year-old white man from Ohio, Kumer said.
It was not clear why he was in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia’s flagship campus.
After hours of clashes, a silver sedan driving at high speed ploughed into the crowd before reversing along the same street.
The incident took place about two blocks from the park displaying the statue of Robert E Lee, who headed the Confederate army in the American Civil War. Reuters