Trump condemns violence 'on many sides' as car rams anti-fascists, killing one


CAIR chief says Trump's reluctance to call out white supremacists constitutes failure of moral leadership

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and others exchange insults with counter-protesters as they attempt to guard an entrance to Lee Park during a 'Unite the Right' rally on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia (AFP)
MEE and agencies's picture
Last update: 
Monday 14 August 2017 8:17 UTC

A picturesque Virginia town erupted in deadly violence on Saturday as white nationalist demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed, with a car ploughing into a group of people and President Donald Trump urging Americans to "condemn all that hate stands for".

But as the death toll linked to the rally rose to three - one in the car crash and two in a helicopter crash outside Charlottesville - the president's apparent refusal to criticise far-right hate groups sparked sharp criticism, even from members of his Republican party.

Virginia's governor, Terry McAuliffe, had already declared a state of emergency when a vehicle rammed into a crowd in normally tranquil Charlottesville, an incident in which police reported "multiple injuries" and "several pedestrians struck".

The person who died when the car surged into the crowd of what witnesses said were counter-demonstrators, was a 32-year-old woman who was crossing the street, Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas said. 

The male driver was taken into custody and police were treating the incident as a "criminal homicide," he said.

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

- Donald Trump

At least 35 people were treated for injuries, ranging from life-threatening to minor, Thomas said.

Hundreds had descended on the university town either to march in or rail against a "Unite the Right Rally". Unrest quickly flared.

"We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for," Trump tweeted. "There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let's come together as one!"

Trump later said: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." Trump spoke from Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is on holiday.

"The hate and the division must stop right now," he said. "We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation."

The president stopped short of condemning white nationalist and supremacist groups, and ignored shouted questions from journalists about the groups, which broadly supported Trump in last year's election.

Council on American-Islamic Relations national executive director Nihad Awad said: "We condemn this apparent act of domestic terrorism targeting anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and urge all Americans to denounce the racists and Islamophobes brought to that city by the Unite the Right rally.

We urge all Americans to denounce the racists and Islamophobes brought to that city by the Unite the Right rally

- CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad

"Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe today rightly called out the 'white supremacists and the Nazis' - saying 'go home, you are not wanted ... shame on you, you pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot' - something President Trump failed to do in his weak reaction to the terror attack.

"President Trump's reluctance to both denounce the act of terrorism and to call out the white supremacist and racists groups by name constitutes a failure of moral leadership and sends the wrong message to newly-empowered racist groups nationwide."

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville on Saturday, was also unsatisfied with the president.

"So, after decades of White Americans being targeted for discriminated & anti-White hatred, we come together as a people, and you attack us?" Duke tweeted. "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists," the Washington Post reported.

Duke, speaking to the crowd, called Saturday’s events "the first step toward taking America back," the Washington Post said.

"The truth is European Americans face tremendous discrimination in this country - jobs, scholarships, promotions," Duke said. "The truth is we are being ethnically cleansed within our own nation."

Ambulances quickly arrived at the scene of the car crash, which a witness told AFP was "intentional" - saying one girl got "tore up" after the car "backed up and they hit again".

First step toward taking America back

- David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan leader

He said the dark car "raced down here, jumped over the speed bumps and it backed up and it hit everyone again".

Earlier in the day McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, saying he was "disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours".

The previous evening hundreds of torch-bearing marchers demonstrated at the University of Virginia campus.

"It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property," McAuliffe wrote in a statement on his emergency declaration.

On Saturday morning, people in combat gear - some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs, sticks and makeshift shields - fought one another on downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed chemical irritants and hurled plastic bottles through the air, the Washington Post reported.

A large contingent of Charlottesville police officers and Virginia State Police troopers in riot gear were stationed on side streets and at nearby barricades but did nothing to break up the melee until about 11:40am. Using megaphones, police then declared an unlawful assembly and gave a five-minute warning to leave Emancipation Park.

They were met by equal numbers of counter-protesters, including clergy, Black Lives Matter activists and Princeton professor Cornel West, the Washington Post reported.

An AFP journalist at the scene witnessed demonstrators, some clad in militia uniforms, throwing punches and hurling bottles even before the rally began.

Video footage from the demonstrations showed anti-racism protesters waving flags from the Black Lives Matter movement, as crowds chanted slogans like "We say no to racist fear" and "No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA".

Others brandished Confederate flags, today considered a symbol of racism by many Americans. 

Michael Von Kotch, a Pennsylvania resident who called himself a Nazi, told the Washington Post the rally made him "proud to be white".

He said that he’s long held white supremacist views and that Trump’s election has "emboldened" him and the members of his own Nazi group, the Post reported.

"We are assembled to defend our history, our heritage and to protect our race to the last man," Von Kotch said, wearing a protective helmet and sporting a wooden shield and a broken pool cue. "We came here to stand up for the white race."

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, who had called for the white nationalist demonstration, on Saturday declared it "a monumental event for our movement" even after police started clearing the crowd.

Saturday's far-right rally followed a smaller demonstration last month that saw a few dozen Ku Klux Klan-linked marchers gather to protest the city's planned removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, a general who led Confederate forces in the US civil war.

Though they were outnumbered by hundreds of jeering counter-protesters, the extreme right marchers, some donning the traditional white hood of the notorious white power group, saw their images spread worldwide on social media.

This time, the extreme right brought in big names of the alt-right movement, which has been energised, critics say, by Trump's ascent to the White House, in a bid to attract more supporters.

A monumental event for our movement

- Jason Kessler, right-wing blogger

Normally reticent First Lady Melania Trump took to Twitter to respond to the demonstrations, writing: "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville." 

"Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists," Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the longest-serving Republican senator in US history, tweeted that "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan also weighed in on the social media platform: "The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry."

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan on Saturday condemned that demonstration, saying in a statement that "the intimidating and abhorrent behavior displayed by the alt-right protesters was wrong".

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which monitors extremist groups, said that Saturday's "Unite the Right" rally could mark one of the most significant demonstrations of its kind in decades.

White nationalists clash with group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday (Reuters)