Democracy Dies in Darkness

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One dead as car strikes crowds amid protests of white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville; two police die in helicopter crash

By Joe Heim, Ellie Silverman, T. Rees Shapiro, Emma Brown

August 13, 2017 at 12:30 AM

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White nationalists were met by counterprotesters in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, leading Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state emergency. A car plowed into crowds, killing one person and injuring 19 others. (The Washington Post)

Chaos and violence turned to tragedy Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members — planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets and a car plowed into crowds, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.

Hours later, two state police officers died when their helicopter crashed at the outskirts of town. Officials identified them as Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., who was the pilot, and H. Jay Cullen of Midlothian, Va., who was a passenger. State police said their Bell 407 helicopter was assisting with the unrest in Charlottesville. Bates died one day before his 41st birthday; Cullen was 48.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who had declared a state of emergency, said at an evening news conference that he had a message for “all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth.”

Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s city manager, looked stricken as he spoke. “Hate came to our town today in a way that we had feared but we had never really let ourselves imagine would,” he said.

State and local officials declined to take reporters’ questions.

A white nationalist and a counterprotester face off. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
A member of The Militia tries to separate white nationalists and counterprotesters. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Counterprotesters shout during the Unite the Right rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
A group calling itself The Militia arrives to keep the peace outside the rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists rally at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Ben, a 21-year-old Ku Klux Klan member from Harrison, Ark., attends the rally at Emancipation Park. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Counterprotesters from the Unitarian Universalists congregation link arms during the Unite the Right rally. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
White nationalist groups rally at Emancipation Park. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists gather at Emancipation Park for the Unite the Right rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Cornel West hugs a counterprotesters outside Emancipation Park during the rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
A rally participant blares a horn at counterprotesters. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
Black Lives Matter counterprotestors shout during the rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Clashes begin at the Unite the Right rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists stand behind shields during the rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Counterprotesters and White nationalists clash. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Counterprotesters and white nationalists clash at the Unite the Right rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists clash with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A counterprotester uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist at the entrance to Emancipation Park. (Steve Helber/AP)
Protesters are forced out of Emancipation Park by riot police. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
A woman is injured during the clashes. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
White nationalist groups and counterprotesters during the Unite the Right rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Pepper spray is used on protesters. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Demonstrators skirmish in Charlottesville. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
A demonstrator throws a newspaper box. (Steve Helber/AP)
Black Lives Matter protesters stand in a fog of tear gas during the clashes. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Demonstrators and counterprotesters clash. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
A woman is sprayed with water to wash away pepper spray. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
A man pleads with riot police to "stop defending the Nazis" during the rally. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress)
People are treated after the collision. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
The scene after a car plowed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers tranport a victim on a stretcher. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into protesters. (Steve Helber/AP)
Kessler looks at his watch while waiting for a crowd of protesters to quiet before beginning a news conference Sunday in front of City Hall. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Protesters use trombones in an attempt to drown out Kesslers news conference. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Kessler holds a news conference outside City Hall. (Andrew Shurtleff/Daily Progress/AP)
Protesters shout anti-Nazi chants after chasing Kessler from the news conference. Kessler, who helped organize the Unite the Right rally one day earlier, blamed Charlottesville government officials and law enforcement for failing to protect the First Amendment rights of the rally's participants, a collection of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and alt-right supporters. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A police escort rushes away Kessler after the news conference was broken up. (Tasos Katopodis/EPA)
Kessler is rushed away after his news conference. (Tasos Katopodis/EPA)
Counterprotesters shout after Kessler fled. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Several hundred people on the campus of the University of Virgina chant White lives matter!, You will not replace us! and Jews will not replace us! (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists march along the front of a campus building. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
The torchlit march makes its way through the University of Virginia campus. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Beginning a little after 9:30 p.m., the march lasted 15 to 20 minutes before ending in skirmishing when the marchers were met by a small group of counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the universitys founder. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
White nationalists carry torches while marching. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
The march came on the eve of the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of groups from around the country whose members have said they are being persecuted for being white and that white history in America is being erased. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
University of Virginia campus police keep watch. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
The Saturday rally is being held at noon at Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, home to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville voted to remove earlier this year. The statue remains in the park pending a judges ruling expected later this month. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Men in their 20s and 30s constituted the majority of the participants. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
An officer helps a white nationalist after tear gas was deployed, apparently by a counterprotester. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
A counterprotester reacts to tear gas. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Marchers gather around the Thomas Jefferson statue. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: Tensions rise as white nationalists hold a rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In an emergency meeting Saturday evening, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to give police the power to enact a curfew or otherwise restrict assembly to protect public safety.

Video recorded at the scene of the car crash shows a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying — and then reversing at high speed, hitting yet more people. Witnesses said the street was filled with people opposed to the white nationalists who had come to town bearing Confederate flags and anti-Semitic epithets.

A 32-year-old woman was killed, according to police, who said they were investigating the crash as a criminal homicide.

The driver of the Challenger, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit-and-run attended failure to stop with injury, police said. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer said. Three other men were arrested in connection with violence earlier in the day.

The FBI field office in Richmond and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia said late Saturday they have opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly car crash.

“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”

Records show Fields last lived in Maumee, Ohio, about 15 miles southwest of Toledo.

Fields’s father was killed by a drunk driver a few months before the boy’s birth, according to an uncle who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His father left him money that the uncle kept in a trust until Fields reached adulthood.

“When he turned 18, he demanded his money, and that was the last I had any contact with him,” the uncle said.

Fields, he said, grew up mostly in Northern Kentucky, where he’d been raised by a single mother who was a paraplegic. The uncle, who saw Fields mostly at family gatherings, described his nephew as “not really friendly, more subdued.”

Angela Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, said 19 others were brought to the hospital in the early afternoon after the car barreled through the pedestrian mall. Five were in critical condition as of Saturday evening. Another 14 people were hurt in street brawls, city officials said.

Earlier, police evacuated a downtown park as rallygoers and counterprotesters traded blows and hurled bottles and chemical irritants at one another, putting an end to the noon rally before it officially began.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout downtown, including the pedestrian mall at Water and Fourth streets where the Challenger slammed into counterprotesters and two other cars in the early afternoon, sending bystanders running and screaming.

“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here,” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer (D) said in a tweet. “I urge all people of good will — go home.”

Elected leaders in Virginia and elsewhere urged peace, blasting the white supremacist views on display in Charlottesville as ugly.

But President Trump, known for his rapid-fire tweets, remained silent throughout the morning. It was after 1 p.m. when he weighed in, writing 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!”

In brief remarks at a late-afternoon news conference in New Jersey to discuss veterans’ health care, Trump said he was following the events in Charlottesville closely. “The hate and the division must stop and must stop right now,” Trump said, without specifically mentioning white nationalists or their views. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville on Saturday, quickly replied. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he wrote.

Asked by a reporter in New Jersey whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, dozens of whom wore red Make America Great Again hats during the Charlottesville riots, Trump did not respond.

Even as crowds began to thin Saturday afternoon, the town remained unsettled and on edge. Onlookers were deeply shaken at the pedestrian mall, where ambulances had arrived to treat those injured by the car.

Chan Williams, 22, was among the counterprotesters in the street, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” The marchers blocked traffic, but Williams said drivers weren’t annoyed. Instead, she said, they waved or honked in support.

So when she heard a car engine rev up and saw the people in front of her dodging a moving car, she didn’t know what to think.

“I saw the car hit bodies, legs in the air,” she said. “You try to grab the people closest to you and take shelter.”

Williams and friend George Halliday ducked into a shop with an open door and called their mothers. An hour later, the two were still visibly upset.

“I just saw shoes on the road,” Halliday, 20, said. “It all happened in two seconds.”

Saturday’s Unite the Right rally was meant to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The city of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it remains in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.

They were met by counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the university. One counterprotester apparently deployed a chemical spray, which sent about a dozen rallygoers seeking medical assistance.

On Saturday morning, people in combat gear — some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs, sticks and makeshift shields — fought one another on downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed chemical irritants and hurled plastic bottles through the air.

A large contingent of Charlottesville police officers and Virginia State Police troopers in riot gear were stationed on side streets and at nearby barricades but did nothing to break up the melee until about 11:40 a.m. Using megaphones, police then declared an unlawful assembly and gave a five-minute warning to leave Emancipation Park.

“The worst part is that people got hurt and the police stood by and didn’t do a g------ thing,” said David Copper, 70, of Staunton, Va.

State Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), minority leader of Virginia’s House, praised the response by Charlottesville and state police.

Asked why police did not act sooner to intervene as violence unfolded, Toscano said he could not comment. “But they trained very hard for this, and it might have been that they were waiting for a more effective time to get people out” of Emancipation Park, he said.

By early afternoon, hundreds of rallygoers had made their way to a larger park two miles to the north. Duke, speaking to the crowd, said that European Americans are “being ethnically cleansed within our own nation” and called Saturday’s events “the first step toward taking America back.”

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer also addressed the group, urging people to disperse. But he promised they would return for a future demonstration, blaming Saturday’s violence on counterprotesters.

In an interview, Spencer said he was “beyond outraged” that police had declared the planned rally an “unlawful assembly.”

“I never before thought that I would have my country cracking down on me and on free speech,” he said. “We were lawfully and peacefully assembled. We came in peace, and the state cracked down.”

He said that counterprotesters attacked rallygoers but also acknowledged that “maybe someone threw a first punch on our side. Maybe that happened. I obviously didn’t see everything.”

By 11 a.m., several fully armed militias and hundreds of right-wing rallygoers had poured into the small downtown park that was to be the site of the rally.

Counterprotesters held “Black Lives Matter” signs and placards expressing support for equality and love as they faced rallygoers who waved Confederate flags and posters that said “the Goyim know,” referring to non-Jewish people, and “the Jewish media is going down.”

“No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” the counterprotesters chanted.

“Too late, f-----s!” a man yelled back at them.

Michael Von Kotch, a Pennsylvania resident who called himself a Nazi, said the rally made him “proud to be white.”

He said that he’s long held white supremacist views and that Trump’s election has “emboldened” him and the members of his own Nazi group.

“We are assembled to defend our history, our heritage and to protect our race to the last man,” Von Kotch said, wearing a protective helmet and sporting a wooden shield and a broken pool cue. “We came here to stand up for the white race.”

Naundi Cook, 23, who is black, said that she came to Saturday’s counterprotests to “support my people” but that she’s never seen something like this before.

When violence broke out, she started shaking and got goose bumps.

“I’ve seen people walking around with tear gas all over their face, all over their clothes. People getting Maced, fighting,” she said. “I didn’t want to be next.”

Cook said she couldn’t sit back and watch white nationalists descend on her town. She has a 3-year-old daughter to stand up for, she said.

“Right now, I’m not sad,” she said once the protests dispersed. “I’m a little more empowered. All these people and support, I feel like we’re on top right now because of all the support that we have.”

Brown reported from Washington. Jack Gillum and Sarah Larimer in Washington contributed to this report.


Joe Heim joined The Post in 1999. He is currently a staff writer for the Metro section. He also writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column in the Sunday magazine.

Ellie Silverman is a summer intern for The Washington Post, covering cops and courts, and a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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