WASHINGTON: The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, remained tense on Sunday, a day after three people were killed in incidents related to a white supremacist rally.
President Donald Trump’s statement that hate “on many sides” caused Saturday’s violence further increased tensions as the US media blamed him for encouraging intolerance.
“Trump lit the torches of white supremacy in Charlottesville. We must extinguish them,” The Washington Post commented.
Groups openly advocating violence against non-whites and immigrants take part in march
Earlier on Sunday, a small group of antisupremacist protesters burned a confederate flag in downtown Charlottesville, raising fears of more clashes as the flag represents the forces that fought to retain white supremacy by maintaining slavery.
The violence began on Friday night when hundreds of white supremacists from across the United States descended on the city known for its liberal values with torches symbolising slave-burning and vowed to protect white supremacy.
They were protesting against the city’s decision to remove the statue of a confederate general who fought against Abraham Lincoln in the civil war.
The marchers included groups like Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and Skinheads, who openly advocate using violence to intimidate non-whites and to force immigrants out.
The march led to counterprotests all over Charlottesville on Saturday and although city officials had cancelled the permission they had earlier given to white nationalists, they too held a rally near Emancipation Park, where they had planned the original meeting.
Clashes followed as hundreds of white nationalists and counterdemonstrators converged on the downtown area.
In the afternoon on Saturday, a car ploughed through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Police arrested 20-year-old Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr., who has now been charged with second-degree murder and is facing other charges. Media reports claimed that he belonged to a white supremacist group in Ohio.
The victim was identified as Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman from a nearby Virginia county. Counterprotesters have planned a candlelight vigil for her but police fear more violence during the solemn event.
A second incident occurred when a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near the rally’s site, killing both men aboard.
Lt H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were part of the police team deployed to the downtown to maintain law and order.
On Saturday afternoon, President Trump issued a statement, condemning “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”.
Reading out the short statement from his private golf club in New Jersey, Mr Trump said: “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
Mr Trump did not mention white nationalists and the alt-right movement in his remarks, and later called for a “study” of the “situation”. He also ignored reporters who asked him if he considered the car slamming into counterprotesters an act of terrorism.
Democrats and Republicans alike criticised Mr Trump’s response. The statement “lacked the absolute moral clarity that we need from the president of the United States at times like this”, said Scott Jennings, an aide to former US president George W. Bush.
Sen Marco Rubio, a Republican who ran for president against Mr Trump in 2016, tweeted: “Very important for the nation to hear the president describe events in Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by white supremacists.”
President Trump, however, did a send a message of unity, urging people to remember “no matter our colour, creed, religion or political party; we are all Americans first”.
But Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in condemning neo-Nazis who caused the riots by marching into Charlottesville said: “Go home. You are not wanted.”
The governor had earlier declared a state of emergency in Virginia to help city officials control the situation and to prevent white supremacists from other states from entering Virginia.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2017