Officials in the U.S. state of Virginia have declared a state of emergency in the city of Charlottesville after the outbreak of violence between far-right groups and their counter-protesters, with at least one dead and many left injured.
Police forces in Charlottesville have worked to disperse hundreds of protestors after violence erupted between participants in the far-right “Unite the Right” rally and counter-protestors. White nationalist and other conservative groups gathered to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. This decision was made in response to calls by citizens across the country who viewed the statue as a celebration of the racist creed held by the forces of the southern Confederate States during the American Civil War. Participants and organizers of “Unite the Right” claim that dismantling the statue is an affront to their heritage, though detractors were quick to point out the racist sentiment associated with the defence of the slave-owning Confederate States.
Furthermore, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe identified the protesters as originating from “mostly out-of-state,” thereby dispelling many of their claims of concern for historical relevance. Some far-right protesters came to the rally apparently anticipating violence, as they were, according to the Independent, armed with assault rifles, as well as wearing makeshift armour and gas masks. As such, clashes between the two camps were initiated from the onset of the rally, when counter-protesters entered the park to oppose those gathered. The violence peaked when a vehicle rammed a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman. The rapidly intensifying confrontations led to the state of emergency being issued and the declaration that the rally was unlawful. With this, state police began dispersing the crowds, with the special riot-police and the National Guard being deployed as safeguards against further violence.
Racial and political tensions have been high in the United States since the beginning of current President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The mayor of Charlottesville, Michael Signer, went as far as stating, “I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.” For instance, since his declaration of intent to run, Trump has been accused of exploiting existing community pressures to levy support for his presidential bid. This has led to a massive intensification of violence around the country in the last year, with far-right and leftist protesters increasingly coming to a head. To illustrate, earlier this week, clashes erupted at the University of Virginia, where far-right protesters had once again gathered in opposition of the removal of the Lee statue. It was here that many of the far-right activists displayed their true colours, where they made Nazi salutes and chanted phrases directly associated with the Nazi Party.
The President has since responded to the recent events in Charlottesville via social media, calling for all Americans to “condemn all that hate stands for.” However, many have viewed these responses as being inadequate, calling for the government to more directly challenge the growing threat of far-right and racist extremism, with many government officials, both Democrat and Republican alike, voicing their disappointment in the President’s consistent failure to highlight the role of white supremacists role in the violence. Nevertheless, despite the growing fractures throughout American society, many remain hopeful of a bright future for the country, such as Governor Terry McAuliffe who, when speaking to President Trump, urged him to “begin a movement to bring people together.”
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