Fights erupted Saturday morning and at least two people were hurt as white nationalists and counter-protesters violently clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, where local police and the governor declared a state of emergency.
Supporters of the “Unite the Right” rally descended again on the city’s downtown in opposition to clergy members and other groups, who stood in a line singing “This Little Light of Mine” to drown out the profanity and slurs.
“Love has already won. We have already won,” the counter-protesters responded.
But as the violence intensified with shoving and punching, demonstrators covered their mouths after tear gas was apparently released into the crowd.
The city and Albemarle County both issued a “declaration of local emergency” for the two jurisdictions to request additional resources. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also declared a state of emergency to allow for a response to quell the violence.
“Local officials continue to closely monitor the situation,” Charlottesville police said on Facebook.
Two people were also treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries near Emancipation Park, the city of Charlottesville tweeted, as tensions flared with back-and-forth shouting and physical posturing.
A large group of counter-protesters wore black shirts and masks and carried shields, yelling to the white nationalists: “We have replaced you. Strong, united, interracial crew.”
Chants of “You will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” were met with shouts of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
The shouting grew when demonstrators arrived at a statue of former President Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder, reported NBC affiliate WVIR.
At least one person was arrested and several others treated for minor injuries, according to local newspaper The Daily Progress. Both sides reported being hit with pepper spray, the newspaper added.
Reuters and a number of local reports put the number of protesters in the hundreds. The Washington Post reported that the march lasted between 15 and 20 minutes.
University and local police did not respond to numerous requests for information on the incident.
The demonstration came on the eve of Saturday’s far-right march of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the so-called alt-right movement. Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler planned the event in response to Charlottesville’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Emancipation Park.
Rep. Don Beyer, D.-Va., tweeted Saturday morning that “white supremacists chanting Nazi slogans aren’t Virginia or America. They are weak, ignorant, fearful people with citronella tiki torches.”
According to The Daily Progress, city police estimate between 2,000 and 6,000 people were expected to attend the “Unite the Right” rally. The controversial event is seeking to unify the far-right wing and “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests,” according to its Facebook page.
McAuliffe earlier warned that “there have been communications from extremist groups, many of which are located outside of Virginia, who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials.”
The governor also put the Virginia National Guard on alert.
In videos posted to social media from Friday night, the white supremacists can be seen goading their opposition with shouts of “Jews will not replace us” and “white lives matter.”
The display drew condemnation from local and university officials.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our grounds this evening,” University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including university personnel who were attempting to maintain order.”
“The violence displayed on the grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the university’s values,” Sullivan added.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the demonstration a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance.”
He added: “Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: Not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
The King Center, founded by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, tweeted that “racism never left America.”