U.S. authorities were on Sunday investigating the outbreak of violence in Virginia following a rally organised by a group called Unite the Right during which one person was killed and 30 injured.
The violence in the Southern college town of Charlottesville on Saturday was widely condemned, with many politicians and activists on both the left and right criticising US President Donald Trump for waiting too long to address it and when he did so, for suggesting there was fault on “many sides” for the violence.
The White House on Sunday said Trump was condemning all forms of “violence, bigotry and hatred” when he spoke about the violence in Charlottesville, including “white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups,” after he came under fire for not naming those groups specifically.
“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups,” the White House spokesperson said. “He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
Far-left group Antifa, who have turned up to disrupt numerous right-wing, alt-right and far-right rallies since Trump was elected, and rioted in Berkeley university earlier in the year smashing shop windows and setting fires, on Saturday confronted rally participants, which included a number of Swastika-carrying neo-Nazis. Other counter-protesters included groups such as Black Lives Matter.
About 15 people were injured after the rival groups fought pitched battles using fists, rocks and pepper spray. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), police had no instructions to intervene when the clashes began. The organisation tweeted: “Clash between protesters and counter protesters. Police says “We’ll not intervene until given command to do so.”
Reuters reported that Virginia police had not yet provided a motive for a man plowing a car into a crowd of the counter-protesters but U.S. attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened a civil rights investigation into the crash, an FBI field office said.
Four people have been arrested, including James Fields, a 20-year-old man from Ohio who is being held in jail on suspicion of crashing the car. The vehicle killed a 32-year-old woman and injured 19 people, five of them critically.
Federal authorities were also looking into a helicopter crash on Saturday that killed two Virginia state policemen aiding efforts to quell the clashes.
On Sunday morning, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, appealed on Twitter for Americans to “be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.” She also posted: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis.”
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chairs the Republican Party’s Senate election effort, called on the president to condemn “white supremacists” and to use the term.
“Calling out people for their acts of evil – let’s do it today – white nationalist, white supremacist,” Gardner said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday. “We will not stand for their hate.”
An organiser of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was staged to protest the planned removal of Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee’s statue from a park, said supporters of the event would not back down.
“Absolutely we are going to have further demonstrations in Charlottesville because our constitutional rights are being denied,” said Jason Kessler, whom civil rights groups identified as a white nationalist blogger.
The Unite the Right rally stemmed from a long debate in the U.S. South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over slavery. Moves have been made recently across the south under pressure from progressives and other left-wing factions to remove historical monuments they find offensive.
Trump said on Saturday that there was more than one side to the Charlottesville incidents. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he told reporters at his New Jersey golf course.
The Charlottesville violence was the latest clash between the those of on the extreme right and left. At Trump’s January inauguration, black-clad far-left anti-Trump protesters in Washington smashed windows, torched cars and clashed with police, leading to more than 200 arrests.
The Virginia clashes also up the level of internal strife within the US since June when an anti-Trump, Bernie Sanders supporter opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers just outside Washington as they were practicing for an annual charity baseball game against Democrats.
Representative Steve Scalise was seriously injured after being shot during the incident. Gunman James Hodgkinson, 66, had a history of posting angry messages against Trump. He was shot dead by police at the scene.