CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville on Saturday as a protest of a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate general turned violent, leaving several people injured and threatening to plunge the area into chaos.
Protesters clashed in the historic college town, as white nationalists — some waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields — converged on the statue of Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park and the surrounding streets. The protest was the apparent culmination of more than a year of debate and division over the fate of the statue.
Saturday’s rally was supposed to start at noon, but the scene at the park had grown chaotic by late morning, with white nationalists and neo-Nazis facing off with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other counter-protesters. Inside the park, which was encircled with metal barricades and police, hundreds of white nationalists gathered around the Lee statue, chanting phrases like “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”
Outside the park, a huge mass of counter-protesters grew, shouting phrases like “Nazi scum.” By 11:35 a.m., police had retreated, the barricades came down and street fights broke out. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets. Pepper spray filled the air as the police attempted to contain the situation.
By 11 a.m., when the city declared the state of emergency, several people had been injured, including a University of Virginia police officer. It was unclear if the injuries were serious. The governor, Terry McAuliffe, followed with his own declaration an hour later.
“The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop,” Gov. McAuliffe said on Twitter. “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”