Chanting “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus Friday night.
The fast-paced march was made up almost exclusively of men in their 20s and 30s, though there were some who looked to be in their mid-teens.
Beginning a little after 9:30 p.m., the march lasted 15 to 20 minutes before ending in skirmishes when the marchers were met by a small group of counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.
A short brawl erupted after at least one of the counterprotesters apparently deployed a chemical spray, which affected the eyes of a dozen or so marchers. It left them floundering and seeking medical assistance.
Police officers who had been keeping a wary eye on the march jumped in and broke up the fights. The marchers then disbanded, though several remained and were treated by police and medical personnel for the effects of the mace attack.
It was not clear if anyone was taken into custody. There were no immediate reports of any arrests.
The march came on the eve of the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of groups from around the country whose members have said they are being persecuted for being white and that white history in America is being erased.
The Saturday rally is being held at noon at Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, home to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville voted to remove earlier this year. The statue remains in the park pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.
Many city leaders and residents have expressed concern about the prospect of violence at Saturday’s event.
Estimates have suggested that one thousand or some protesters may take part in the Saturday rally. Expectations were that counter protesters might turn out in larger numbers.
Citing the crowds expected and safety issues, the city ordered the rally moved to a larger park away from the city’s downtown. But Jason Kessler, the rally’s organizer, filed a lawsuit against the city that was supported by the Virginia ACLU, saying that his First Amendment rights would be violated by moving the rally. On Friday, a federal judge ruled that the rally should remain at Emancipation Park.
Saturday’s rally marks the second time in six weeks that Charlottesville has faced a protest from white supremacist groups for its decision to remove the statue. On July 8, about three dozen members of a regional Ku Klux Klan group protested in the city.
The torchlight parade drew sharp condemnations from Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer and U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan.
Sullivan described herself as “deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior”shown by the marchers.
Signer said he was “beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.” He called the chanting procession a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance.”