12, 2017. Gov.
Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)(Photo: The Associated Press)
The protests began after the Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the Lee statue. A judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city, a progressive college town where over 80% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton, from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported.
The city also voted to rename Lee and Jackson parks this spring. Statues of Confederate leaders nationwide have been removed in recent years as communities viewed them as symbols of slavery, but a USA TODAY analysis in May found that more than 700 Confederate monuments in 31 states still stand.
More: Shocking video shows car slam into protesters at ‘Unite the Right’ rally
Several dozen torch-wielding demonstrators, led by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, gathered by the Lee statue on May 13 to protest the vote for its removal. Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said the event harkened “back to the days of the KKK.
Virginia State Police distributed a photo of Saturday’s rally that appeared to show Unite the Right members arrested at what police called an “unlawful assembly.”
In a video posted by Spencer Saturday after the rally and before the incident, the white nationalist leader expressed anger at the police response to the gathering– and pledged to return to the city of 46,000.
Your head’s going to spin how many times we’re going to be back down.”
White nationalist groups continue to return to Charlottesville partly because they saw the May torch light gathering as a great success, noted Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“They loved the imagery of that.
They were over the moon about that,” she said. “They viewed it as having been a wonderful recruiting tool.
Brennan Gilmore, a former staffer for gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello, witnessed and filmed Saturday’s car incident and said he expected violence.
“They billed it as one of the largest alt-right gatherings. There’s no equivalency among these groups; it was a peaceful protest and a group of hateful ideology with a man that ran down those peaceful protests.
Last summer, Fischer announced plans to remove a Confederate monument and faced small protests and waves of emails, phone calls and social media campaigns to fight the decision from across the country.
Fischer said Virginia’s Civil War ties to the Confederacy could have contributed to the white supremacist interest in Charlottesville. Kentucky was officially neutral in the Civil War, but both sides violated the neutrality.
The final statue of Lee came down in May with no major incidents.