CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — 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 counter-protesters 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, a Democrat, who had declared a state of emergency in the morning, 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 African-American 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.
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 as necessary 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.
Records show Fields last lived in Maumee, Ohio, about 15 miles southwest of Toledo.
Angela Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, said 19 people 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 counter-protesters 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 counter-protesters 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 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. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the display “repugnant.”
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. “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.
Dozens of the white nationalists in Charlottesville were wearing red Make America Great Again hats. Asked by a reporter in New Jersey whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, 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 counter-protesters at the pedestrian mall, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The marchers blocked traffic, but Williams said drivers weren’t annoyed. Instead, she said, they waved or honked in support.
Saturday marked the second time in six weeks Charlottesville has faced a protest for its decision to remove the statue of Lee.