The turmoil in Charlottesville began with a march Friday night by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia and escalated Saturday morning as demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue inside the park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Hundreds of counterprotesters — religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fascist groups known as “antifa” — quickly surrounded the park, singing spirituals, chanting and carrying their own signs.

The morning started peacefully, with the white nationalists gathering in McIntire Park, outside downtown, and the counterdemonstrators — including Cornel R. West, the Harvard University professor and political activist — gathering at the First Baptist Church, a historically African-American church here. Professor West, who addressed the group at a sunrise prayer service, said he had come “bearing witness to love and justice in the face of white supremacy.”

At McIntire Park, the white nationalists waved Confederate flags and other banners. One of the participants, who gave his name only as Ted because he said he might want to run for political office some day, said he was from Missouri, and added, “I’m tired of seeing white people pushed around.”

But by 11 a.m., after both sides had made their way to Emancipation Park, the scene had exploded into taunting, shoving and outright brawling. Three people were arrested in connection with the skirmishes.

Barricades encircling the park and separating the two sides began to come down, and the police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air. One of the white nationalists left the park bleeding, his head wrapped in gauze.

Declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, the police had cleared the area before noon, and the Virginia National Guard arrived as officers began arresting some who remained. But fears lingered that the altercation would start again nearby, as demonstrators dispersed in smaller groups.

Within an hour, politicians, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, had condemned the violence.

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A car slammed into a group of counterprotesters after a rally by white nationalists on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. killing at least one and injuring at least 19.

Credit
Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress, via Associated Press

The first public response from the White House came from the first lady, Melania Trump, who wrote on Twitter: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.”

Former President Barack Obama responded to the violence on Twitter with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion… People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love..”

After the rally was dispersed, its organizer, Jason Kessler, who calls himself a “white advocate,” complained in an interview that his group had been “forced into a very chaotic situation.” He added, “The police were supposed to be there protecting us and they stood down.”

Both Mr. Kessler and Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who was to speak on Saturday, are graduates of the University of Virginia. In an online video, titled “a message to Charlottesville,’’ Mr. Spencer vowed to return to the college town.

“You think that we’re going to back down to this kind of behavior to you and your little provincial town? No,’’ he said. “We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.”

Later in the day, a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near a golf course and burst into flames, leaving at least two people dead. The helicopter appeared to have been monitoring the protests.

The violence in Charlottesville was the latest development in a series of tense dramas unfolding across the United States over plans to remove statues and other historical markers of the Confederacy. The battles have been intensified by the election of Mr. Trump, who enjoys fervent support from white nationalists.

In New Orleans, tempers flared this spring when four Confederate-era monuments were taken down. Hundreds of far-right and liberal protesters squared off, with occasional bouts of violence, under another statue of Robert E. Lee. There were fisticuffs and a lot of shouting, but nothing like the violence seen in Charlottesville.

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James Alex Fields

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Charlottesville Police Department

In St. Louis, workers removed a confederate monument from Forest Park in June, ending a drawn-out battle over its fate. In Frederick, Md., a bust of Roger B. Taney, the chief justice of the United States who wrote the notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision denying blacks citizenship, was removed in May from its spot near City Hall.

Here in Charlottesville, Saturday’s protest was the culmination of a year and a half of debate over the Lee statue. A movement to withdraw it began when an African-American high school student here started a petition. The City Council voted 3 to 2 in April to sell it, but a judge issued an injunction temporarily stopping the move.

The city had been bracing for a sea of demonstrators, and on Friday night, hundreds of them, carrying lit torches, marched on the picturesque grounds of the University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson.

“We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back,” said Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.

University officials said one person was arrested and charged Friday night with assault and disorderly conduct, and several others were injured. Among those hurt was a university police officer injured while making the arrest, the school said in a statement.

Teresa A. Sullivan, the president of the university, strongly condemned the Friday demonstration in a statement, calling it “disturbing and unacceptable.”

Still, officials allowed the Saturday protest to go on — until the injuries began piling up.

Charlottesville declared a state of emergency around 11 a.m., citing an “imminent threat of civil disturbance, unrest, potential injury to persons, and destruction of public and personal property.”

Governor McAuliffe followed with his own declaration an hour later.

“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,” he said in a statement. “I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state.”

The Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, Ed Gillespie, issued his own statement denouncing the protests as “vile hate” that has “no place in our Commonwealth.”

Mr. Ryan agreed. “The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,” he said on Twitter. “Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”

Correction: August 12, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the age of a man arrested after the Charlottesville rally. James Alex Fields Jr. is 20, not 32.

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