Brawls broke out in downtown streets before a planned rally at noon. Police largely did not intervene.
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Hours before a noon rally was set to begin Saturday, violent skirmishes broke out between bands of white supremacists and counterprotesters who have converged on this college town around the issue of a Confederate statue.
Men in combat gear, some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs and sticks and makeshift shields fought each other in the downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed each other with chemical irritants and plastic bottles were hurled through the air.
A large contingent of Charlottesville and Virginia state police in riot gear were stationed on side streets and at nearby barricades but did nothing to break up the melee.
A group of three dozen self-described “militia” – men who were wearing full camouflage and were armed with long guns – said they were there to help keep the peace, but they also did not stop the fights.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe had placed the National Guard on standby but they, too, were not in the downtown area where the morning clashes were occurring.