Hundreds of far-right activists have gathered in the US city of Charlottesville, Virginia, to rally against plans to remove a Confederate statue, prompting the city to declare a “local emergency” amid clashes.
Announced on Saturday morning, the declaration of a local emergency has enabled local authorities to obtain additional resources and render the rally an “unlawful public assembly”.
Writing on Twitter, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also announced a state of emergency to “aid response to violence at the alt-right rally in Charlottesville”.
Organised by Jason Kessler, a former journalist and member of the Proud Boys, an ultra-nationalist group, Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally was slated to be one of the largest white supremacist events in recent US history.
It is the third event of its type to be held in Charlottesville, a university town of 46,000 people, throughout the last four months.
Earlier this year, the city voted to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, the foremost military Confederate military leader during the US Civil War, prompting similar far-right protests in May and July.
Among those in attendance are well-known figures such as Mike Peinovich, a white supremacist podcaster who also goes by Mike Enoch, and Richard Spencer, a leading figure in the alt-right, a loosely knit group that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The groups who sent members included the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Worker Party and Identity Evropa, among other white supremacist and far-right movements.
Emily Gorcenski, a Charlottesville-based activist, said that far-rightist activists made “threats, many promises of violence and incitement to violence” ahead of Unite the Right.
“What we’re seeing is that they have no qualms about allying itself with violent and hateful groups like the National Socialist Movement, the KKK and other [similar] organisations,” she told Al Jazeera.
Led by local church groups, community organisers and Black Lives Matter, several counter-demonstrations have started in different locations across the city.
Although city officials attempted to move Unite the Right from Emancipation Park, the site of the Robert E Lee statue, to another nearby park, a federal judge reinstated the group’s permit for the original venue on Friday.
The Virginia State Police announced on Twitter that arrests had been made, but it did not specify how many people had been detained.
‘Effort to intimidate the community’
On Friday night, hundreds of marchers descended on the University of Virginia carrying torches and yelling slogans “white lives matter” and “blood and soil”.
Others reportedly chanted: “You will not replace us.”
According to anti-racist and anti-fascist activists who were present, the far-right activists encircled and attacked a group of students who were holding a counter-protest.
Michael Payne, co-chair of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, described Unite the Right as an “effort to intimidate the community”.
“Last night, the alt-right protesters initiated the violence … The neo-Nazis surrounded them with lit torches and started macing and beating the students,” he told Al Jazeera, explaining that police arrived after clashes started.
Videos and photos posted on social media also showed the far-rightists surrounding and confronting counter-demonstrators.