White nationalists with torches march on University of Virginia chanting ‘blood and soil!’
Charlottesville mayor expresses disgust at nighttime demonstration as city tries to block Saturday’s gathering
Scores of white nationalists holding torches marched across the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, chanting “blood and soil”, “white lives matter” and “you will not replace us”.
Scuffles broke out on Friday night between the white nationalists and a small group of counter-protesters who called themselves “anti-fascists” and were opposing Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which is expected to be one of the largest far-right gatherings in the US in at least a decade.
Police soon cleared away the demonstrators.
“The fear we instil in them today only fuels our victory tomorrow,” one rally supporter wrote on Twitter, in a message retweeted by Richard Spencer, one of the nation’s most prominent white nationalists, who is attending the weekend’s events in Virginia.
Spencer also tweeted a selfie, showing him smiling with the marchers’ tiki torches in the background.
“I am safe. I am not fine,” one of the counter-protesters, Emily Gorcenski, tweeted, saying that white nationalists had attacked her group.
“What I just witnessed was the end of America.”
Pictures and video of the nighttime march spread rapidly across social media, where many black and left-leaning Americans expressed disgust – some suggesting it was reminiscent of torch-lit Ku Klux Klan rallies of yesteryear.
“This is a disgrace,” tweeted Martese Johnson, a black University of Virginia alumnus who gained notoriety in 2015 when he was bloodied by police as a student. “I do not believe this is happening on my university’s campus.”
Charlottesville’s mayor expressed outrage at Friday’s gathering of white nationalists, who at one point stopped to pay tribute to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who owned slaves.
“When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils,” wrote Mayor Mike Signer on Facebook.
“Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march,” he added.
Noting that everyone has a First Amendment right of assembly and free speech, Signer said: “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.”
For weeks, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right figures have been preparing for Saturday’s rally, occasionally facing obstacles, such as Airbnb banning far-right users for violating the company’s anti-racism policies.
The city had also objected to the gathering spot that demonstrators’ requested – Emancipation Park, which was formerly named Lee Park and houses a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties and human rights group based in Charlottesville, filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the city on behalf of the rally organisers. The suit said that the city was unconstitutionally infringing on the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights by directing them to go to a different park.
The city said its request wasn’t prompted by the white nationalists’ political beliefs, but because the one-acre Emancipation Park would be too small for the number of demonstrators expected to arrive in the city on Saturday.
But on Friday night, a judge sided with the white nationalists and ordered the city to allow them to gather in Emancipation Park, where local leaders promise to have hundreds of law enforcement officials monitoring events.