White nationalists clashed with counter-protestors before police moved in and intervened at a demonstration in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city's Emancipation Park.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the city to aid in the local response. He blamed "mostly out-of-state protestors" for the violence and clashes. "I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protestors have brought to our state over the past 24 hours," McAuliffe said in a statement. He said state troopers and the Virginia National Guard were providing support to local authorities.
After a series of earlier confrontations in Emancipation Park, police declared the assembly unlawful and officers in riot gear began to clear the area shortly after noon. The crowd quickly dispersed and police cleared the area, which had earlier been the site of aggressive clashes.
Jason Kessler, the organizer behind the "Unite the Right" rally, told CBS News he plans to sue the city for violating a court order permitting the rally to be held in the park. "Our First Amendment rights were violated today," Kessler said by phone. He said the city of Charlottesville and McAuliffe violated the court ruling because they "didn't like the outcome".
The protest turned violent well ahead of the rally's official noon start time. At least two people were treated for serious but non-life-threatening emergencies from altercations by 10:30 A.M. Counter-protestors flooded the area to square off with the group of alt-right activists and white supremacists. Police deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30 A.M. Members of Congress largely condemned the rally, with House speaker Paul Ryan denouncing the "spectacle" as "repugnant", calling on Americans to unite against hate.
The rally comes shortly after a large group of torch-bearing white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus Friday night, after a judge issued a ruling allowing Saturday's protest to move forward. UVA cancelled all scheduled events planned for Saturday citing "ongoing public safety concerns", but announced that the college's medical center would remain open.
Citing crowd safety concerns, the city of Charlottesville approved a protest permit earlier this week for the event to specifically be held in a different larger park instead of the smaller Emancipation Park where the Lee statue stands. Late Friday night, a U.S. district court judge in Charlottesville agreed. In the ruling, Judge Glen E. Conrad said the city's "11th hour decision" to revoke the permit was "based on the content of Kessler's speech rather than other neutral factors."