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Three dead after violent clashes at white nationalist rally
Three people were killed and 19 others were injured during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., turning a day of violent demonstrations into a tragedy that rocked the nation.
One of the three died after a car mowed down a group of counter-protesters. The two other victims were Virginia State Police Department officers who were in a helicopter that crashed nearby.
The University of Virginia Health System said 20 people were brought to the hospital Saturday afternoon after a car plowed into a group of people protesting near a popular pedestrian mall in the college town. One died and the rest were being assessed and treated for injuries.
The helicopter crash happened a few miles outside of Charlottesville, and it was not immediately clear what caused the crash.
Virginia State Police said Saturday that the helicopter crashed in a wooded area near a home around 5 p.m. The crash is being investigated and it is unclear if it was tied to the protests.
The incident came after Virginia's governor had declared a state of emergency for the city after clashes between white nationalist and Nazi groups and counter-protesters.
President Trump condemned the violence on Saturday afternoon at an event on veterans' healthcare, but he did not specifically mention white nationalists, neo-Nazis, or their views, instead criticizing hatred and violence "on many sides."
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides," he said, adding that the task now "is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives."
Trump's comments drew criticism from a slew of lawmakers and other political figures in both parties who said the president should have been unequivocal in expressing outrage at white supremacists.
"Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism," Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a message on Twitter it was "very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."
A White House official in a statement later on Saturday to NBC News reiterated Trump's remarks, saying the president was "condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides," adding that there was "violence between protesters and counter-protesters today."
Video posted to social media showed a grey sedan speeding down a side street full of people and smashing into another vehicle, before backing up and sending people fleeing for safety. Police said the driver was arrested.
The grisly incident occurred hours after police broke up violent clashes between white nationalists, who came to the city to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and counter-protesters.
Footage showed demonstrators shouting, throwing bottles at one another and using pepper spray in a downtown park.
The events on Saturday took place after dozens of white nationalists carrying torches held a rally in Charlottesville on Friday, where they were photographed using Nazi salutes.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in declaring a state of emergency midday Saturday said he was "disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours."
Demonstrators defied the authorities' attempt to restore order, as skirmishes broke out across the downtown area. That's when the violence escalated with the three-car collision. Authorities have not yet said whether they believe the incident was accidental or intentional.
"I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will–go home," tweeted Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.
While Trump blamed many sides for their role in the violence, other elected officials in both parties condemned the white nationalist demonstration that they said fueled it.
"The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry," Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tweeted.
Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) wrote on Twitter: "We banished hate a long time ago in Virginia. We must condemn this bigotry and not turn a blind eye to racism."
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called on Trump to "denounce what happened this weekend – and the white supremacist hate behind it" and demanded the FBI open an investigation into the violence.
Gupta also blamed Trump for having "emboldened and enabled the forces of hate and division in this country."
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who was on the scene in Charlottesville, condemned the president's statement, tweeting that "our people were peacefully assembling" but were attacked by "radical leftists."
"So, after decades of White Americans being targeted for discriminated & anti-White hatred, we come together as a people, and you attack us?" he wrote.
But other white nationalists at the rally interpreted Trump's comments as a condemnation of the counter-demonstrators, and not people on their side.
"Did Trump just denounce antifa?" tweeted Richard Spencer, an "alt-right" white nationalist speaker who attended the rally. "Or did Trump denounce the state police that cracked down on peacefully and lawfully assembled demonstrators?"
Critics have questioned Trump's motives before when reacting to race- and religion-based attacks. It took weeks for the president to deliver an unequivocal condemnation of bomb threats issued against Jewish Community Centers across the country.
Authorities later arrested an Israeli-American teenager for making many of the threats.
In recent weeks, Charlottesville has been the scene of chaotic demonstrations by white nationalist and Ku Klux Klan groups upset over the planned removal of the Lee statue.
The city council voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it remains in place in city's Emancipation Square while a judge renders a decision on the move.
Dozens of Ku Klux Klan members demonstrated in the city last month, following a May protest attended by Spencer.
[Source: By Jordan Fabian, The Hill, Washington, 12Aug17]
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