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'Unite the Right' rally: Violence erupts even before protest begins

'Unite the Right' rally: Violence erupts even before protest begins

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — A massive white nationalist rally in this progressive Virginia college town turned violent Saturday morning even before a car slammed into counterprotesters Saturday afternoon.

Intense skirmishes broke out between counterprotesters and attendees.

Pepper spray filled the air as the two groups engaged in physical fights. At one point, the rally attendees, many of whom were outfitted with shields, guns and sticks, appeared to launch at least four tear gas canisters on the counterprotesters, scattering them in search of medical attention.

At 11:30 a.m., police, who had a heavy presence in the area but for the most part did not intervene in the violence, declared the assembly unlawful and began to clear the park.

The rally, which was called to protest the city’s plan to remove a Confederate Statue from a downtown park and advocate for a mishmash of white nationalist and supremacist positions, had been set to begin at noon. Organizers had expressed a hope that the event, which drew as many as a thousand supporters from around the country, would galvanize their fringe movements into a greater political force.

Attendees quickly dispersed, many looking ragged. As of 12:30 p.m., police reported 1 arrest and eight injuries.

“Police sprayed me, the (counterprotesters) sprayed me, everyone sprayed me,” said 29-year-old William Fears, a contruction worker who traveled from Houston, Texas, to join the rally.

Fears had stripped down to only his underpants because he said his clothes had been drenched in an unknown chemical weapon. He said he travelled to Charlottesville to “defend white history, advocate our rights to exist and to make friends.”

Thousands of Charlottesville residents turned out to make their displeasure with the rally known. Among them was George Stepp, a city native, who waved a large portrait of Barrack and Michelle Obama at the rally attendees, taunting them.

“This is my first time every coming out to a protest like this,” Stepp said. “I just want to get in their mind how great of a president Obama was – rub it in a little bit.”

While many of the rally attendees waved signs expressing support for President Donald Trump, the president denounced the rally in a tweet, saying “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump called for peace after violent clashes broke out at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

The President said at 1:19 p.m. Saturday on Twitter: "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"

Melania Trump, about 45 minutes earlier, tweeted: "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence."

Hundreds of white nationalists and counter protestors faced off Saturday in downtown Charlottesville, with several violent clashes erupting.

It's the latest confrontation in the city since it voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.

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