HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening and thanks for joining us. At least one person is dead and several are injured tonight after protests and counter protests turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. Hundreds of white nationalists and alt-right activists clashed in the streets with counter-protesters and police.
McAuliffe said the declaration would facilitate the state’s response, which included calling out Virginia National Guard soldiers.
NewsHour Producer P.J. Tobia has been covering today’s demonstrations and has more.
P.J. TOBIA: The violent clashes began before a so-called “Unite the Right” rally scheduled to take place in Charlottesville’s McIntire Park.
Organizers had originally planned to hold a rally in the city’s “Emancipation Park,” which used to be called “Lee Park” in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Charlottesville City Council voted in April to remove a bronze statue of Lee from that park, sparking opposition by white nationalists.
They converged on the park today, waving Confederate flags and chanting Nazi-era slogans. They were soon surrounded by counter-protesters with their own signs and chants. Shoving and fighting soon followed.
This self-described militia member says he had rocks thrown at him.
MILITIA MEMBER: We constantly get blamed as the haters. We came here in peace. We came here to keep security in this town for freedom of speech whether we agree with you or not. Our goal is to give you a chance to voice your opinion, that’s all we’re about.
P.J. TOBIA: This man is a Charlottesville native. He said he came out to show the “unite the right” rally did not represent him.
UNNAMED MAN: I came out to support our people. Not only people of color but the people of this community that represent peace.
P.J. TOBIA: Unitarian pastor Susan Frederick-Grey blamed the political rhetoric from the White House for emboldening the white nationalists.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GREY: Fear and hate have been given license in our country. Racialized violence has been given permission in this country and we are here to stand love.
P.J. TOBIA: A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League called today’s protest a “white supremacist rally,” indicating, “The darkest corners of society are emboldened to come forward and openly parade their bigotry on Main Street.”
The rally ended before it ever began. By early afternoon, police had largely cleared the park.
Later, one car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, causing multiple injuries.
This video — posted to Twitter by a staff member of the former U.S. congressman from Charlottesville — shows a car driving into a crowd and then speeding away in reverse. The witness says the crash seemed intentional.
President Trump said today in a tweet, quote: “We must all be united at condemning all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one.”
Later, he spoke about Charlottesville from his golf club in New Jersey.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long time. There is no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.
P.J. TOBIA: The person who died was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of protesters. It happened on the street right behind me. 19 others were also injured. In all, there was one arrest.
HARI SREENIVASAN: P.J., you were near the area when the car plowed into the protesters. Describe that scene. We’ve kind of seen pictures here and there throughout the day, but what was it like in there?
P.J. TOBIA: Well actually, at that moment, Hari, the protest had turned kind of festive. There were people with funny signs, there was laughing and singing and chanting. And all of a sudden you heard the screech of tires and a rush of people coming the other direction. The tone changed dramatically. People were calling for medics, there were bloody people on the street, there was someone performing CPR, a lot of people heaving and crying and within minutes EMTs were on the way.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This is not what Charlottesville’s known for, it’s primarily a college town. When you talk with so many of the people you spoke with today, how did they feel about what was happening, not just today but also last night?
P.J. TOBIA: Overwhelmingly, the message is, this is not what our city is about. Charlottesville is a welcoming place, it’s a diverse place, it’s a modern city with modern feeling, and that these kind of old school racist tropes are not welcome here. We spoke to a lot of local people who basically all echoed that message.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So to be clear, the driver of that car has been apprehended?
P.J. TOBIA: That’s right, police say they apprehended the driver earlier today.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. P.J. Tobia reporting for us from Charlottesville, Virginia tonight. Thanks so much.
P.J. TOBIA: Thanks Hari.