Hundreds of marchers carried torches and chanted things like “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!” at a “Unite the Right” torch rally at the University of Virginia campus Friday night.
A short brawl erupted after at least one of the counterprotesters apparently deployed a chemical spray, which affected the eyes of a dozen or so marchers, according to The Washington Post.
The Post also reported that several skirmishes broke out when the marchers were met by a small group of counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.
The 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 Unite the Right rally could be the largest of its kind ever.
The Unite the Right rally is being held at noon at Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, home to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville voted to remove earlier this year. The statue remains in the park pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.
Governor McAuliffe released the following statement on the planned Unite the Right Rally:
This morning, I was briefed for the second time this week by public safety officials in my cabinet, the Virginia State Police, the National Guard, and the Department of Emergency Management on their preparations for tomorrow’s rally in Charlottesville. I have directed them to coordinate with federal and local authorities and take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of their personnel, the Charlottesville community and rally attendees. Virginia State Police is leading the Commonwealth’s planning and response for these events and will be on the scene in a support capacity before, during and after the planned rally. At my direction, personnel from the Virginia National Guard are also standing by to respond if needed.
Virginia is the birthplace of the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly that make our country great. I expect that most of the individuals who participate in tomorrow’s events will honor that proud legacy by expressing their views safely and respectfully. However, in advance of tomorrow’s rally there have been communications from extremist groups, many of which are located outside of Virginia, who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials. In the event that such violent or unlawful conduct occurs, I have instructed state public safety officials to act quickly and decisively in order to keep the public and themselves safe.
Finally, as we prepare for tomorrow’s events, I want to urge my fellow Virginians who may consider joining either in support or opposition to the planned rally to make alternative plans. Many of the individuals coming to Charlottesville tomorrow are doing so in order to express viewpoints many people, including me, find abhorrent. As long as that expression is peaceful, that is their right. But it is also the right of every American to deny those ideas more attention than they deserve. Men and women from state and local agencies will be in Charlottesville tomorrow to keep the public safe, and their job will be made easier if Virginians, no matter how well-meaning, elect to stay away from the areas where this rally will take place.