VIRGINIA, U.S. – On Saturday, hundreds of police officers, many in riot gear, surrounded Charlottesville’s downtown area, where anti-racism protesters marked the one year anniversary of clashes between demonstrators at a white nationalist rally and counter-protesters.
Defined as America’s era of hatred, hundreds of white nationalists as part of various groups gathered under the banner of ‘Unite the Right’ and held marches at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville last year.
Chantin Nazi slogans and holding torches, the demonstrators clashed with counter-protestors, including students.
The group marched through the University shouting “Jews will not replace us,” “white lives matter,” “blood and soil,” a day before the bigger march.
The march aimed at highlighting the persistent debate in the U.S. South over the display of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, fought over the issue of slavery – and the “alt-right” protest was spurred by plans to remove a statue of confederate General Robert E Lee.
The rally also protested against Charlottesville’s decision to rename downtown Lee Park, now called Emancipation Park.
Supporters called such statues racially insensitive, while opponents claimed Confederate symbols honor Southern heritage, and calls to remove them reflect “empty political correctness.”
The following day, various group of self-proclaimed fascists held a controversial march under the banner of ‘Unite The Right’ which saw scores of White Nationalists being challenged by around 1,000 counter protesters – leading to tumultuous clashes that gripped the country and became a flash point in a renewed discussion about the state of race relations in America.
Violence erupted as the two groups clashed on the streets and a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer, James Fields allegedly drove his silver Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-demonstrators, injuring at least 19 and killing 32-year-old, resident of Charlottesville, Heather Heyer.
Fields has been charged with driving his car into a group of counter-protesters and killing Heyer and injuring dozens of people.
He has reportedly pleaded not guilty and his trial is set to begin in November this year.
However, in the aftermath of Heyer’s death, Trump faced widespread backlash for claiming that “there is blame on both sides.”
He said, “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”
Trump had also tried to equate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Lee.
At the time, Democrats and civil rights groups jumped on Trump’s statement to cast the administration as tolerant of well-known hate groups and ill-equipped to stand for all Americans.
A year later…
A year later, on the first anniversary of the Charlottesville rally, the U.S. President took to Twitter and condemned racism.
Trump started the day on Saturday by tweeting that he condemns “all types of racism and acts of violence,” appealing for unity ahead of the anniversary in Charlottesville.
Trump wrote on Twitter that the “riots” in Charlottesville “resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
In Charlottesville on Saturday, hundreds of anti-racism protesters in the scenic college town marked a day of hope, grief, anger and remembrance by staging non-violent demonstrations, a year after the violent protests drew criticism from across the world.
However, the protesters were visibly aggravated by the heightened police presence, after witnessing hundreds of police officers, many in riot gear, surrounding Charlottesville’s downtown area throughout the day.
Nearly 200 protesters were gathered to march against white supremacy under heavy security.
There were no white nationalist events scheduled as white nationalist Jason Kessler, who organized last year’s event, was reportedly denied a permit in Charlottesville this year.
He wrote on Twitter, “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Meanwhile, activists at the rally on Saturday confronted the cops who made elaborate preparations to avoid any untoward incident and chanted, “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here.”
According to reports, up to 300 National Guard troops and more than 700 Virginia State troopers were set to be housed in part in UVA’s campus housing.
Protesters criticized both the police and the University of Virginia and chanted, “Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”
Many students gathered in the protest pointed out that the police response this year was far larger compared with last year, when people carrying tiki torches the white nationalist rally went mostly unchecked.
Yet, while the day largely featured no violence or conflict, three men had been arrested for minor offenses.
Later in the afternoon, a group of anti-fascist protesters called “Antifa,” held a march carrying signs with messages like “Good Night White Pride.”
The group reportedly paid their respects at the corner where Heyer was killed last year.