State of emergency as white nationalist rally in Charlottesville turns violent

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Last Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:46 PM EDT

White nationalists clashed with counter-protesters before police moved in and intervened at a demonstration in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Emancipation Park. 

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the city to aid in the local response. He earlier said the Virginia National Guard will be “standing by to respond if needed.”

After a confrontation in Emancipation Park, police declared the assembly unlawful and officers in riot gear began to clear the area shortly after noon. The crowd quickly dispersed and police cleared the area, which had earlier been the site of aggressive clashes.

Jason Kessler, the organizer behind the “Unite the Right” rally, told CBS News he plans to sue the city for violating a court order permitting the rally to be held in the park.  

“Our first amendment rights were violated today,” Kessler said by phone.

Some protesters who came for the “Unite the Right” rally were armed and dressed in military-like clothing, while others wore shirts with Nazi symbols and quotes from Adolf Hitler. Another read “diversity is just a genocidal scam.”    

The protest turned violent well ahead of the rally’s official noon start time. At least two people were treated for serious but non-life-threatening emergencies from altercations by 10:30 a.m. Counter-protesters flooded the area to square off with the group of alt-right activists and white supremacists. Police deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30 a.m.

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Police officers in riot gear arrive at violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday.

Twitter / Preston Willett, WCAV

The rally comes shortly after a large group of torch-bearing white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia (UVA) campus Friday night, after a judge issued a ruling allowing Saturday’s protest to move forward.

Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell said earlier that police expected between 2,000 and 6,000 protesters and counter-demonstrators.

UVA cancelled all scheduled events planned for Saturday citing “ongoing public safety concerns,” but announced that the college’s medical center would remain open.

“The University is monitoring the developments in Charlottesville and continues to coordinate with state and local law enforcement,” the school said in a statement.

The cancellation includes athletic events, community discussions and all academic programming.

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A police cruiser shown amid protests and counter-demonstrators descended on the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday.

Twitter / Preston Willett, WCAV

Since Thursday, organizers of the rally has been involved in a legal battle regarding the place of this protest.

Citing crowd safety concerns, the city of Charlottesville approved a protest permit earlier this week for the event to specifically be held in a different larger park instead of the smaller Emancipation Park where the Lee statue stands.

Late Friday night, a U.S. district court judge in Charlottesville agreed. In the ruling, Judge Glen E. Conrad said the city’s “11th-hour decision” to revoke the permit was “based on the content of [Kessler’s] speech rather than other neutral factors.”

Kessler was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute.

Several alt-right members were invited to speak at the rally including white nationalist Richard Spencer. Many credit Spencer with popularizing the term “alt-right” as he garnered national media attention after being heard shouting “Hail Trump!” at a white nationalist convention in Washington, D.C., and later, being punched in the face on Inauguration Day while giving an interview. 

Teresa Sullivan, UVA’s president, denounced the march in a statement issued Friday. 

“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our Grounds this evening,” she said. “The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University’s values.”

Bo Erickson, Justin Carissimo, Kathryn Watson, Paula Reid and Stefan Becket contributed to this report.

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