Saturday, December 16, 2017

Charlottesville mayor rips 'Unite the Right;' leader blames city for violence

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Cell phone video from Charlottesville, Va. shows a speeding vehicle crashing into a second car and causing a reaction crash that killed one person, and injured many more. It happened during a white nationalist rally in the city. (Aug. 12)
AP

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Protest rallies were planned across the nation Sunday and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe joined worshipers at a local church one day after a white nationalist “Unite the Right” demonstration here exploded in violence that left a counter-protester dead and dozens of people injured.

A woman, identified by city officials as Heather Heyer, 32, was killed Saturday when a car slammed into the counter-protesters peacefully marching away from the scene of the initial violence. Two state troopers died when their surveillance helicopter crashed into the woods near the scene about two hours later.

“Visiting our VA state troopers this morning to share prayers for their fallen brothers and to thank them for their great work this weekend,” McAuliffe tweeted Sunday.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, speaking on several national news shows Sunday, called Heyer’s death a terrorist act and blamed white supremacists for Heyer’s death.

“This is a city that is praying and grieving,” Signer told CNN. “We had three people die yesterday who didn’t need to die. … Two things need to be said over and over again — domestic terrorism and white supremacy.”

More: 1 dead, 19 injured as car hits crowd after a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville; d

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Jason Kessler, one of the leaders of the Unite the Right rally, blamed Signer and other city officials for the violence. He released a video statement on Twitter saying police failed to separate the protest groups and were ill-equipped to handle the melee that resulted.

“Charlottesville has blood on its hands,” he said. 

Scores of marches and rallies against racism were scheduled Sunday from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. The Indivisible Project, an advocacy group that opposes President Trump’s policies, listed many of the events on its website. The group said the protesters “will come together in solidarity with our brave friends in Charlottesville who put themselves at risk to fight against white supremacy.”

Trump spoke out against the violence at a news conference Saturday in New Jersey, condemning “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

Trump, however, drew outrage from critics for failing to blame white nationalist demonstrators for the violence. Even some Republicans were quick to call out the white nationalists.

“Our hearts are with today’s victims. White supremacy is a scourge,” tweeted House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.”

The FBI announced Saturday night it would open a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the death.

Police said 19 people were injured when a Dodge Challenger rear-ended a sedan, which then hit a minivan that had slowed to allow the counter-protesters to cross at an intersection. The impact pushed the vehicles into the crowd, police said in a statement.

The Challenger fled the scene but was stopped by police a short time later, Charlottesville police said. The driver of the car, identified as James Alex Fields, 20, of Ohio, was charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run, police said.

The Unite the Right rally was called to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park. About 500 protesters among the white nationalist and alt-right groups left the park shortly after state police, using megaphones, declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” at 11:40 a.m., about 20 minutes before the rally was scheduled to begin.

Police said more than a dozen people were injured in the melee, which took place more than an hour before the car crash. Hours later the helicopter crashed, and State Police identified the dead troopers as Lt. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Va. and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates, 40, of Quinton, Va.

Cullen was a 23-year veteran of the force and is survived by his wife and two sons. Bates spent three years with the force and joined the aviation unit last month.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the Lee statue, but a judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the move. That prompted a torch light protest by white nationalists.

White nationalist groups continue to return to Charlottesville partly because they saw the May torch light gathering as a great success, noted Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“They loved the imagery of that. They were over the moon about that,” she said. “They viewed it as having been a wonderful recruiting tool.”

Contributing: Gabe Cavallaro, The (Staunton) News Leader; Doug Stanglin, Jayme Deerwester, Nick Penzenstadler, www. usapress.today.

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