(Reuters) – At least three people were killed on Saturday and 35 injured after protests turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white nationalists protesting plans to remove the statue of a Confederate general clashed with counter-demonstrators and a car plowed into a crowd, officials said.
A 32-year-old female was among those killed, said Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas, and injuries ranged from life-threatening to minor. The male driver of the vehicle that plowed into a crowd is in custody, Thomas said, and police were treating the incident as a criminal homicide investigation. During a panel discussion on CNN newsroom a number of guests called for a Department of Justice investigation into the car incident as an act of domestic terrorism.
The car-crowd incident took place a short while after police broke up a brawl between white nationalists and counter-protesters, so it was not immediately clear whether it was connected to earlier fight.
The white nationalist-led protest was staged in opposition to the removal of a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee. Called “Unite the Right,” the gathering was an amalgam of hate groups, including Aryans, Neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan, and was organized with violence in mind. Members of hate groups showed up armed with mace, wearing helmets and body padding, and carrying shields. Counter-protesters also carried shields.
President Trump said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said. He then seemed to minimize the clash saying: “It’s been going on for a long time in our country.”
Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer, however, dismissed Trump’s suggestion that racial violence is somehow endemic to the nation and said Trump’s campaign was responsible for feeding the flames of prejudice.
“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,” he said.
It took Trump a while to say anything about the violence. In fact, his wife Melania spoke out about an hour before he did, posting on Twitter that: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our heart. No good comes from violence.”
Mayor Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town.