Editor's note: Anika Kempe, a University of Richmond journalism graduate and resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, wrote the following chronological account of the demonstrations and violence that took place in the city this past weekend.
“Unite the Right,” a rally meant to protest the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, turned violent last Friday night as white nationalists and supporters marched to the front of the Rotunda on the Lawn at the University of Virginia (UVA) holding tiki torches during a pre-rally.
According to one report by CNN, the torch-bearing crowd could be heard chanting “blood and soil,” a phrase invoking the Nazi slogan “Blut und Boden.”
The marchers were met by a smaller crowd of individuals surrounding UVA’s statue of Thomas Jefferson, holding a white sheet that read “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy.”
As Unite the Right supporters clashed with the counterprotesters, the encounter grew violent. Police officers broke up the rally after ruling it an unlawful assembly, according to a report by NBC29, Charlottesville's local news station.
“Last night, alt-right protesters carrying torches marched on UVA’s Grounds, attempting to intimidate bystanders and spread their message of intolerance and hate,” UVA President Teresa Sullivan wrote in an email sent out to the UVA community Saturday afternoon.
A UVA police officer was injured while making an arrest during the march, Sullivan said.
According to a report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler scheduled the rally from noon to 5 p.m. on Aug. 12. Timeline reports indicate that the event began much earlier.
Participants in Saturday’s rally came from a variety of political and social groups, including Neo-Nazis, socialists, fascists, white nationalists, alt-right supporters and Vanguard America members.
Counterprotesters from activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa (anti-fascism) and Together Cville were also present.
Mykal McEldowney, visuals manager and photojournalist for the Indianapolis Star, was present at the rally and recorded his interview with David Duke, a former Louisiana politician and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
“What does today represent to you?” a male voice is heard asking.
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“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said. “We are determined to take our country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he is going to take our country back, and that’s what we gotta do.”
Around 10:50 a.m. there was a Confederate flag burning as reported by Chris Suarez from the Daily Progress.
By 11 a.m., a local emergency was declared in Charlottesville according to WSET ABC 13, a news station based in Lynchburg, VA. Leading up to the announcement, there were reports of altercations, pepper spray being used by protesters, tear gas, bottles of urine and eggs being thrown at the press and bottles full of cement being thrown into crowds.
Charlottesville city officials quickly declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” via Twitter. Soon after, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to “aid state response to violence,” according to his Twitter account.
In the hours that followed, protesters and counterprotesters moved throughout downtown Charlottesville. Around 12:40 p.m., Twitter photos indicate that a car intentionally plowed into crowds gathered at a pedestrian mall in downtown Charlottesville.
A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured following the accident, according to police.
The alleged driver of the car was James A. Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio. He was taken into custody within hours of the crash and charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Later in the afternoon, two Virginia State Troopers died following a helicopter crash at Birdwood Golf Course, located west of the city. It was confirmed in the agency’s news release that the troopers were assisting public safety efforts for the Unite the Right rally, according to a report by CNN.
Authorities have noted that there is no indication that foul play was the cause or a factor in the crash.
In the hours and days following the event, several public figures voiced their opinions regarding the tragedy.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides," United States President Donald Trump said in a public statement on Saturday afternoon. "It's been going on for a long time in our country."
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a press conference Saturday evening: “I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple. Go home. You are not wanted in this great Commonwealth.”
In an email sent out to members of the University of Richmond community Monday afternoon, UR President Ronald A. Crutcher expressed his sympathy to the Charlottesville community, as well as maintaining that higher education plays an important role in the elimination of hatred.
“At Richmond, we respect and value our First Amendment rights that encourage us to speak freely and assemble in peace,” Crutcher said. “We also believe unequivocally that hatred has no place among an educated citizenry. We continue to embrace the role higher education can play in facilitating the exchange of ideas as a means of strengthening our democracies."
Anika Kempe is a journalism graduate from the University of Richmond. She currently resides in Charlottesville, VA.
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