US president Donald Trump condemns violent rally in Charlottesville

A white nationalist demonstrator left bloodied during the protest. Photo: Steve Helber
A white nationalist demonstrator left bloodied during the protest. Photo: Steve Helber

Charlottesville:  At least three people were killed and 35 injured after protests turned violent in the US state of  Virginia, as white nationalists protesting plans to remove the statue of a Confederate general clashed with counter-demonstrators and a car ploughed 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 drove into a crowd is in custody, Thomas said, and police were treating the incident as a criminal homicide investigation. 

Police ordered hundreds of people out of a park, putting an end to a noon rally that hadn't even begun. Hundreds of neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klans members and other white nationalists had gathered in Emancipation Park but were met by equal numbers of counter protesters, including clergy, Black Lives Matter activists and Princeton professor Cornel West.

Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency shortly before 11am.

President Donald Trump held a press conference shortly after the death was announced. "It's been going on for a long, long time in our country," Mr Trump said.

"No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security. No child should ever be afraid to go outside and play. The hate and the division must stop. And it must stop right now. We must come together as Americans. We are all Americans first.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."

He ignored shouted questions from reporters about what he thought of the white nationalists at the event who said they supported him and were inspired by his campaign.

President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville. Photo: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville. Photo: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

Prominent Democrats, civil rights activists and even a few Republicans said it was inexcusable of the president not to denounce white supremacy.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner wrote on Twitter: "Mr. President - we must call evil by its name", adding, "These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a tweet: "What we've seen today in Charlottesville needs to be condemned and called what it is: hatred, evil, racism & homegrown extremism."

White nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville. Photo: Steve Helber

White nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville. Photo: Steve Helber

The commentary followed a violent morning, with police declaring an unlawful assembly at about 11.40am. 

Mr Trump had earlier tweeted: "We must ALL be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America."

Men in combat gear, some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs and sticks and makeshift shields fought each other in the downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed each other with chemical irritants and plastic bottles were hurled through the air.

State police and Charlottesville police in riot gear were stationed on side streets but were not in the most concentrated areas where protesters and counter protesters were brawling. Governor McAuliffe had placed the National Guard on standby but they, too, were not in the downtown area where the morning clashes were occurring.

By 11am, several fully armed militias and hundreds of right wing rally goers had poured into the small downtown park that is the site of the planned rally.

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Photo: Ryan M. Kelly

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Photo: Ryan M. Kelly

Charlottesville officials, concerned about crowds and safety issues, had tried to move the rally to a larger park away from the city's downtown.

But Jason Kessler, the rally's organiser, filed a successful lawsuit against the city that was supported by the Virginia ACLU, saying that his First Amendment rights would be violated by moving the rally.

Tensions began on Friday night, as several hundred white supremacists chanted "White lives matter!" "You will not replace us!" and "Jews will not replace us!" as they carried torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus.

The fast-paced march was made up almost exclusively of men in their 20s and 30s, though there were some who looked to be in their mid-teens.

Meanwhile, hundreds of counter protesters packed a church to pray and organise. A small group of counter protesters clashed with the marchers shortly before 10pm at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university's founder.

One counter protester apparently deployed a chemical spray, which affected the eyes of a dozen or so marchers. It left them floundering and seeking medical assistance.

Police officers who had been keeping a wary eye on the march jumped in and broke up the fights. The marchers then disbanded, though several remained and were treated by police and medical personnel for the effects of the mace attack. It was not clear if any one was arrested.

The planned march came on the eve of the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of groups from around the country whose members have said they are being persecuted for being white and that white history in America is being erased.

The Washington Post, Fairfax Media, Reuters