Yesterday Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, declared a state of emergency as riot police ordered people to disperse after chaotic and violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protesters.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally to protest against the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from a park.
Colleen Cook, 26, stood on a curb shouting at the rally attendees to go home. Cook, a teacher who attended the University of Virginia, said she sent her son, who is black, out of town for the weekend.
“This isn’t how he should have to grow up,” she said.
It is the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city, about 100 miles outside of Washington DC, voted earlier this year to remove the statue of Lee.
In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.
Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and “advocating for white people”.
“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.
Among those who arrived in the city were Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which track extremist groups, said the event had the potential to be the largest of its kind in at least a decade.
Many businesses and a popular shopping mall opted to close for the day. Both local hospitals said they had taken precautions to prepare for an influx of patients. There were also fights on Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches.
A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several were injured.
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices.
“I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House,” said Signer.