The Charlottesville Alt-Right Rally Just Turned Violent — Here’s What To Know

by Lilli Petersen
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned got scary on Saturday afternoon, as clashes between right-wing demonstrators and counter-protesters turned violent. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville's Emancipation Park, videos and photos showed violent brawls with Confederate flags and literal shields. From the outside, many of us are watching in horror, wondering, what is happening in Charlottesville?

Photos and videos showed people brawling in the streets, while reports of guns, tear gas, and more circulated. Photos of alt-right demonstrators waving Nazi flags or wearing shirts with quotes attributed to Hitler abounded on social media.

So what on earth is going on?

The rally was organized in response to the removal of a Confederate general's statue.

It all started on Friday night, when white nationalists and counter protesters clashed at the University of Virginia campus. Hundreds of alt-right marchers walked with torches in advance of Saturday's "Unite The Right" rally, organized by right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Charlottesville voted to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a controversial decision which has seen protests already.

Earlier this week, Kessler said that the rally was partly about the removal of the Confederate iconography, but also about free speech and "advocating for white people," per the AP. Authorities were expecting up to 6,000 people, between attendees and counter-protesters.

Brawls broke out, and pepper spray and tear gas have been used.

Horrifying photos and videos from the scene show factions beating each other with the bases of flags, tear gas being sprayed, and protesters treating themselves for exposure to pepper spray.

Reports are unclear as to whether or not it was police who were using either the tear gas or pepper spray.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.

After brawls began escalating late on Saturday morning, McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, saying that it was "now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers."

Though police were present and declared the rally an "unlawful assembly" shortly before noon, many were critical of police response, saying that they did little to prevent the violence or protect protesters.

A number of protesters have been struck by a car which sped into a crowd.

Multiple people were hit and injured when a car drove into a crowd of protesters shortly before 2 p.m. ET.

A graphic video, broadcast live on Periscope and later posted to Twitter, showed the moment the car drove into the crowd, with bodies flying through the air and people screaming. The car appeared to quickly reverse and back away out of the crowd.

"Holy sh*t, that Nazi just drove into people," the person holding the camera exclaims. "People are badly hurt."

Virginia state police said on Twitter that there had been "multiple injuries," and asked people to avoid the scene so that medics could arrive.

The Washington Post reported at least ten injured, and the mayor of Charlottesville has confirmed at least one death, per CBS News.