One person was killed and 19 were injured on Saturday when a speeding car plowed into a crowd of Black Lives Matter counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a white supremacist rally turned increasingly violent.
Witnesses said the car struck two other cars that were surrounded by protesters and not moving in what appeared to be a deliberate act. The impact sent bodies into the air. The driver threw the car into reverse, reportedly hitting more protesters, and drove away.
“We heard a loud crunch of metal hitting bodies,” said VICE News’ Joe LoCascio, who witnessed the incident on the corner of Water and 4th street. “A lot of screams while people were running away from the scene. People were crying, saying they saw bodies flying when the car collided with people.” The driver was later arrested by police.
The incident capped what turned into deadly day of violence, with 34 people reported injured in total. Two more people were killed when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed nearby. Helicopters had been circling overhead for much of the afternoon monitoring the mayhem below.
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer wrote on Twitter. “I urge all people of good will — go home.”
Later, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave a press conference condemning the organizers of the Unite the Right rally, who chose Charlottesville to stage what is believed to be the largest white nationalist gathering in a decade.
“I have a message for all the white supremacists and all the nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” he said. “Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”
The car attack came hours after McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in response to the escalating chaos. White supremacists and members of the “alt-right,” many of whom were armed, clashed with counter-protesters and law enforcement.
The day’s events followed a “Unite the Right” rally Friday night at the University of Virginia, which drew hundreds of white supremacists, many of whom carried torches in a nod to Ku Klux Klan rallies of the past.
“The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop,” Gov. McAullife wrote on Twitter. “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”
The University of Virginia condemned the Friday night gathering, but said as a public institution it has to allow access to the grounds by the public. “I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our grounds this evening,” UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including University personnel who were attempting to maintain order.”
Saturday’s rally was organized in protest of local officials’ plan to remove a confederate monument and was scheduled to start at noon. Hours ahead of schedule, Charlottesville’s downtown was roiled by white supremacists, many of whom chanted things like “white lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us,” and faced off violently with counter-protesters, including Black Lives Matter and antifascist groups.
Others chanted “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan, pepper-sprayed counter-protesters, and waved flags painted with swastikas.
Many of the white supremacist groups were “very well organized,” in combat gear with security and vans, according to a VICE News team at the scene.
An unidentified militia in combat gear, some members toting assault rifles, were also in the mix. It is legal to carry guns openly in Virginia for anyone over 18. CNN reported that police were making multiple arrests, but it was unclear how many.
White supremacist David Duke, speaking on camera, said that the rally “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.”
Richard Spencer, a prominent figure within the “alt-right” movement, was also present, and livestreamed the day’s events, writing on Twitter, “I love the smell of mace in the morning.”
After the state of emergency was called, Spencer tweeted again, this time urging that alt-right protesters leave the area. “Disperse,” Spencer wrote. “Get out of Charlottesville city limits. State of emergency has been called.”
President Trump and the first lady both condemned the violence on Twitter:
The president addressed the situation in Charlottesville from his vacation home in Bedminster, New Jersey, as part of a planned news conference on veterans affairs. He was criticized for seeming to grant moral equivalency to the white supremacists and the counter-protesters.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides — it has been going on for a long long time,” Trump said.
The Virginia attorney general disputed that equivalency, calling out “racists and white supremacists.”
Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, addressed the violence in Charlottesville before the last stop of his annual town hall swing through his district in Texas border country. In an interview with VICE News, Hurd — a member of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the few black Republican members of Congress — called on political leaders to condemn the violence connected with the white supremacist rally.
Additional reporting by Joe LoCascio and Josh Davis.