CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville on Saturday as a protest of a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate general turned violent, leaving several people injured and threatening to plunge the area into chaos.
Protesters clashed in the historic college town, home to the University of Virginia, as white nationalists — some waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields — converged on the statue of Robert E. Lee in the city’s Emancipation Park and the surrounding streets. The protest was the apparent culmination of more than a year of debate and division over the fate of the statue.
Saturday’s rally was supposed to start at noon, but the scene at the park had grown chaotic by late morning, with white nationalists and neo-Nazis facing off with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other counterprotesters. Inside the park, which was encircled with metal barricades and the police, hundreds of white nationalists gathered around the Lee statue, chanting phrases like “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”
Outside the park, a huge mass of counterprotesters grew, shouting phrases like “Nazi scum.” By 11:35 a.m., the police had retreated, the barricades had come down and fights had broken out. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets. Pepper spray filled the air as the police attempted to contain the situation.
By 11 a.m., when the city declared the state of emergency, several people had been injured, including a University of Virginia police officer. It was unclear if the injuries were serious. The governor, Terry McAuliffe, followed with his own declaration an hour later.
Charlottesville has been bracing for what feels like an invasion of alt-right demonstrators, here for what they are calling a “Unite the Right” rally. On Friday night, hundreds of them, carrying lit torches, marched on the picturesque grounds of the university, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson.
University officials said one person was arrested and charged Friday night with assault and disorderly conduct, and several others were injured. Among those hurt was a university police officer injured while making the arrest, the school said in a statement.
Theresa A. Sullivan, the president of the university, strongly condemned the Friday demonstration in a statement, calling it “disturbing and unacceptable.”