The usually quiet university city of Charlottesville, Virginia, declared a state of emergency Saturday morning after a Unite the Right gathering of far-right extremists began with early, violent clashes with counterprotesters.
The state of Virginia followed suit shortly after, declaring the gathering to be unlawful and ordering both rallygoers and counterprotesters to “disperse immediately.”
“This gathering has been declared as to be an unlawful assembly; in the name of the Commonwealth, you are commanded to immediately disperse; if you do not disperse immediately you will be arrested,” an officer announced to milling crowds midday Saturday.
Saturday’s far-right rally comes after a Friday night march by torch-bearing white nationalists on and near the University of Virginia campus resulted in brawls with protesters countering the event.
The Unite the Right event Saturday was supposed to begin at noon, but people both in support and opposed to the rally began gathering earlier and by 11 a.m. two people had been treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries after an altercation at the city’s Emancipation Park, according to city officials.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has placed the National Guard on standby in preparation for today’s rally, an action he took even before the clashes Friday night.
Charlottesville has become a flash point for white nationalists and protesters seeking to counter them since a City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park formerly called Lee Park but renamed in June to Emancipation Park. The statue of Lee so far remains in the park.
On Friday night, hundreds of white nationalists carrying torches and chanting “white lives matter,” “you will not replace us,” and the Nazi-associated phrase “blood and soil” marched near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and were met by counterprotesters.
Police arrived on campus, declared it an unlawful assembly, and ordered the crowds to disperse. University police arrested one person who was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, a university statement Saturday said. “Several other members of the university community sustained minor injuries during the confrontation.”
University President Teresa A. Sullivan, “strongly condemned the demonstration,” the statement said, adding that the “intimidating and abhorrent behavior displayed by the alt-right protesters was wrong.”
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the event “a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance,” adding that he was “beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
A mass prayer service was held at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on University Avenue that was organized in response to the rally, according to The Daily Progress, a local paper.
Dr. Cornel West, a prominent leftist philosopher and political activist, spoke at the prayer service, calling the “Unite the Right” rally the “biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last 30 to 35 years,” the Daily Progress reported.
A similar rally in which white supremacists carried tiki torches to protest the removal of that and other statues of Confederate leaders throughout the South took place in May, but today’s iteration is expected to be significantly larger–with the number of attendees exceeding 1,000.