White Nationalists Protest at UVA on Eve of Deadly Rally
Protesters and counterprotesters clashed at the Thomas Jefferson statue on the UVA campus Friday night, leading to one arrest and multiple injuries.
A planned rally over the weekend by white nationalists and right-wing activists protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park caused chaos and violence throughout the city, including on the University of Virginia campus.
According to its Facebook page, the rally, dubbed “Unite the Right”, intended to unify the far-right wing and “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests,” reports NBC News.
The leader of the rally, Jason Kessler, says he does not consider himself to be a white nationalist.
“The statue itself is symbolic of a lot of larger issues. The primary three issues are preserving history against this censorship and revisionism — this political correctness,” Kessler told CNN on Friday. “The second issue is being allowed to advocate for your interests as a white person, just like other groups are allowed to advocate for their interests politically. And finally, this is about free speech. We are simply trying to express ourselves and do a demonstration, and the local government has tried to shut us down.”
Violence on UVA Campus
On Friday night, several hundred protesters marched across the University of Virginia’s campus shortly after a federal judge granted a temporary injunction, allowing Saturday’s rally to be held.
Many were yielding torches and chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jew will not replace us”.
The protesters arrived at the Thomas Jefferson statue on campus where they were met by counterprotesters, some of which were students, chanting “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA”. They were also holding a sign that said “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy”.
Violence soon broke out, leading to one person’s arrest who was charged with assault and disorderly conduct. Several other injuries were reported, including one university police officer who was injured while making the arrest.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the university allows demonstrations without permits on open spaces on campus. The school also does not ban open flames during lawful protests.
“UVA is public in the most profound and meaningful sense of that word; we are committed to the public good, and we seek to recognize and represent the great diversity of the public in our commonwealth and in the country,” University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement.
“We believe that diversity is an essential element of excellence and that intolerance and exclusion inhibit progress. We also support the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. These rights belong to the ‘Unite the Right’ activists who will express their beliefs, and to the many others who disagree with them.”
A series of discussions with the theme of “reflective conversation” was planned for Saturday at the university. Topics included “Enfranchising Citizens in the United States: A Short History” and “The Importance of Public Space for Perpetuating or Reducing Social Inequity”.
All campus events were canceled following Friday’s violence.
Sullivan additionally urged all students to avoid the rally, continuing in a statement, “Moreover, to approach the rally and confront the activists would only satisfy their craving for spectacle. They believe that your counterprotest helps their cause. One advocate of the rally said, ‘We should aim to draw the SJWs [social justice warriors] out in Charlottesville and create a massive polarizing spectacle in order to draw as huge a contrast as possible. They will reveal themselves to be violent, intolerant, opposed to free speech, the insane enforcers of political correctness, etc.’ The organizers of the rally want confrontation; do not gratify their desire.”
Three Dead, Dozens Injured Amidst Violent Protests
Demonstrations became increasingly violent, forcing Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.
One man — who at the time was on vacation from his security officer position but has since been fired — plowed his car into a crowd gathering at a downtown mall, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was crossing the street.
A witness says that a gray sports car accelerated into the crowd of counterprotesters who had begun peacefully marching after white nationalists had reportedly left the area just prior.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Robert Armengol, who hosts a podcast with students at the University of Virginia. “After that it was pandemonium. The car hit reverse and sped and everybody who was up the street in my direction started running.”
Angela Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, says the single-car crash brought 20 others to the hospital with injuries. The hospital treated approximately 34 others with injuries received at the protests, although an exact number is unknown, according to a statement from the hospital.
Two Virginia State Patrol troopers, 48-year-old Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and 40-year-old Trooper Berk M.M. Bates, were also killed when their helicopter crashed while “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” the agency said in a press release.
“They were simply assisting the ground resources by forwarding them the aerial optics,” says state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
UVA Medical Center Prepares for Rally
In preparation for the rally, the University of Virginia Medical Center canceled all elective surgery to make room for potential injuries from the expectedly violent protests.
“As we routinely do when large events occur in the Charlottesville area, we are preparing for the possibility of incidents that could lead to an influx of patients,” said UVA Medical Center spokesman Josh Barney. “These preparations aim to ensure that we can provide the best possible care to all our patients.”
He also noted that additional security officers would be on site.
The hospital was preparing to treat injuries on a “natural disaster” scale, reports NBC 29. Additional staff was on call and in the building, particularly in the intensive care unit and emergency department.
As of Sunday, five patients were still in critical condition, four in serious condition, and ten in fair or good condition.
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