Protests, vigils around US decry white supremacism

Protesters converged around the US after a white supremacist rally spiralled into deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Protesters decrying hatred and racism converged around the United States on Sunday, saying they felt compelled to counteract the white supremacist rally that spiralled into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A “Moment of Unity” was held in Charlottesville, giving citizens a chance to offer prayers and support for the victims. Bouquets were laid on the street where 32-year-old Heather Heyer died when she and other victims were mowed down as a car rammed a group of anti-racism and anti-fascist protesters.

The man suspected of driving the car, James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio, 20, was charged with second-degree murder and other crimes and is expected to appear in court on Monday.

Charlottesville attack: What, where and who?

Other gatherings spanned from a planned march to US President Donald Trump’s home in New York to a candlelight vigil in Florida. In Seattle, police made arrests and confiscated weapons as Trump supporters and counter-protesters converged downtown.

Some focused on showing support for the people whom white supremacists condemn. Other demonstrations were pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments, the issue that initially prompted white supremacists to gather in anger this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Other gatherings aimed to denounce fascism and a presidential administration that organisers feel has let white supremacists feel empowered.

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“People need to wake up, recognise that and resist it as fearlessly as it needs to be done,” said Carl Dix, a leader of the Refuse Fascism group organising demonstrations in New York, San Francisco and other cities.

“This can’t be allowed to fester and to grow because we’ve seen what happened in the past when that was allowed.”

“It has to be confronted,” said Dix, a New Yorker who spoke to The Associated Press news agency by phone from Charlottesville on Sunday afternoon. He’d gone there to witness and deplore the white supremacist rally on a Saturday that spiralled into bloodshed.

Charlottesville descended into violence on Saturday after neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists gathered to “take America back” and oppose plans to remove a Confederate statue in the Virginia college town, and hundreds of other people came to protest their rally. The groups clashed in street brawls, with hundreds of people throwing punches, hurling water bottles and beating each other with sticks and shields.

Later in the day, a car rammed into a peaceful crowd of anti-white supremacist protesters, killing a woman.

Charlottesville’s residents are struggling to come to terms with Saturday’s violence, many leaving flowers and tributes at the scene of the car ramming.

“I am thinking about the people in our community, the children who had to witness so much hatred,” Charlottesville resident Rene Balfour told Al Jazeera.

“I am also thinking about the people who came out to stand up against the hate, and I am thinking about the angry faces and hate I saw on so many people who came from out of town to spread hatred and anger. And it’s frightening,” she added.

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Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Charlottesville, said that it seemed the vast majority of the far-right protesters had left the city by Sunday, and many residents were left questioning why the police were not able to control the violence.

“The city wanted a peaceful protest, but hate got in the way. And now a street is turned into a memorial site,” said Elizondo.

In addition to the car ramming, a state police helicopter monitoring the events crashed into the woods, killing two troopers. In all, dozens of people were injured. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

‘We are seeing the beginning of a white supremacist movement’ in US

Organiser Jason Kessler, identified by civil rights groups as a white supremacist blogger, attempted to hold a press conference outside city hall in Charlottesville on Sunday but was quickly shouted down by counter-protesters. They then approached Kessler, who was whisked away by state police.

Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, who attended the rally, denied all responsibility for the violence. He blamed the counter-protesters and police.

Trump condemned what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” a statement that Democrats and some of the president’s fellow Republicans saw as equivocating about who was to blame.

The White House later added that the condemnation “includes white Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups”.

Some of the white nationalists at Saturday’s rally cited Trump’s victory, after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric, as a validation of their beliefs. Some of the people protesting on Sunday also point to the president and his campaign, saying they gave licence to racist hatred that built into what happened in Charlottesville.

“For those who questioned whether ‘oh, don’t call it fascism’ … this should resolve those issues,” Reiko Redmonde, an organiser of a Refuse Fascism protest planned in San Francisco, told AP by phone.

“People need to get out in the streets to protest, in a determined way.”

Protests across the US

Protesters chant slogans against white supremacy in Times Square, New York City [Joe Penney/Reuters]
Protesters chant slogans against white supremacy in Times Square, New York City [Joe Penney/Reuters]

In Seattle, hundreds of demonstrators and counterprotesters converged downtown. Police say they have made arrests and confiscated weapons. Police also ordered crowds at one downtown intersection to disperse.

Blocks away, a conservative pro-Trump group was rallying at Westlake Park downtown. The rally organised by the conservative pro-Trump group known as Patriot Prayer – and a counterprotest aimed at standing against hate – were previously planned for Sunday. Patriot Prayer has held similar events throughout the Pacific Northwest, and they have been met by counterprotests.

A barricade separated the groups of protesters as police officers stood by dressed in black riot gear. At one intersection, police ordered crowds to disperse.

The Seattle Times reported that officers used pepper spray on some marchers. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people had been arrested.

In Denver, several hundred demonstrators gathered beneath a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in City Park and marched about three kilometres to the state Capitol. In Fort Collins, Colorado, marchers chanted “Everyone is welcome here. No hate, no fear.” One demonstrator’s sign said, “Make racists ashamed again.”

Other protests were planned later in the day in other places, including candlelight vigils in Winter Haven, Florida, and near the New Hampshire Statehouse. Other demonstrations centred on Confederate statues on the state Capitol grounds in West Virginia and Tampa, Florida; officials in Tampa have voted to relocate theirs.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies