A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, took a deadly turn after a 20-year old man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
The tragedy unfurled Saturday, several hours after thousands of members of the alt-right descended on the small Virginia city.
Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as potentially ‘the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States,’ local police anticipated a turnout of between 2,000 and 6,000 people. Many of the white supremacists drove or flew into Charlottesville from states across the country, determined to spread their message without being censored by law enforcement.
While nearly a thousand police officers were on hand to deal with potential violence between the rally’s participants and counter-protesters, clashes between the two groups broke out hours before the march was slated to start.
Charlottesville officials quickly moved against ‘Unite the Right,’ ruling the rally an “unlawful assembly.” The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency as intermittent fights occurred across the town and a State Police helicopter crashed while monitoring the crowd from overhead.
Two hours after protesters were told to disband, a gray Dodge Challenger rammed into a street full of counterprotestors.
Witnesses say they saw the car sitting stationary at the end of an empty road.
The driver, 20-year old Alex Fields, Jr., suddenly accelerated, quickly covering the distance between a set of traffic lights and a large group of peaceful demonstrators.
Nineteen people were injured as Fields plowed into the protesters. The Maumee, OH, native quickly put his Challenger in reverse, trying to mow down more victims before being detained.
Thirty-two year old Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Charlottesville, was killed in the attack.
Heyer was described by her boss, Alfred A. Wilson, as a “strong woman” who would stand up against “any type of discrimination.”
The high-profile and controversial rally – the third hosted by white supremacists in Charlottesville since May – garnered a response from President Donald Trump, who issued a statement after learning about the deaths of Heyer and two Virginia State Police officers.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides,” said Trump. “On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”
We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. -OGH
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) August 12, 2017
The commander-in-chief’s comments quickly came under fire by the press.
CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza blasted the president for his unwillingness to condemn the white nationalists who instigated the violence outright.
Cillizza also criticized Donald Trump’s closing remarks, which, rather than reflecting on Charlottesville, boasted of the president’s claimed success in lowering unemployment and bringing back automotive manufacturing.
After speaking at length about how “Foxconn and car companies” were finally returning to American soil, Trump concluded by saying, “So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad.”
A number of Congressional Republicans, including Sens. Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, and Marco Rubio, decried the president’s comment on how “many sides” were responsible for the tragedy in Charlottesville.
“This isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). “This is a time to lay blame.
“This president has done an incredible job of naming terrorism around the globe as evil,” he continued. “He said and called it out time and time again. And this president needs to do exactly that today.”
Another of Gardner’s colleagues, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, joined him in questioning Trump’s strange apportioning of blame.
Both of the senators, despite being Republicans, have been outspoken critics of the White House and Trump administration.
“We should call evil by its name,” said Sen. Hatch.