U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser says the deadly violence that broke out at a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia “meets the definition of terrorism.”
H.R. McMaster, in an interview on ABC News, described the car ramming into a crowd of counter-protesters Saturday that killed a 32-year-old woman as “a criminal act that may be motivated by this hatred and bigotry.”
Nineteen others were injured and two Virginia state police troopers who had been monitoring the unrest from the air were killed in a helicopter crash.
In Pictures: Rallies in Aftermath of Charlottesville Deadly Violence
The U.S. Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the day of violence at the “Unite the Right” rally where white nationalists, many of them supporters of President Donald Trump, clashed with counter-protesters on the streets of the college town 160 kilometers southwest of Washington.
The white supremacists carried signs and chanted slogans against racial minorities and Jews, engaging the counter-protesters in hours of club and fist fights, rock throwing and sprays of chemical irritants.
Trump condemns violence
During the violence and late in the day, Trump condemned the disturbance, but did not criticize by name any of the white nationalist groups who staged the rally, drawing a wide rebuke across the U.S. political spectrum for his tepid response.
On Sunday, the White House said the president was condemning all forms of “violence, bigotry and hatred,” including white supremacists, the racist Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and “all extremist groups.”
Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser, said in a Twitter comment, “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis. We must all come together as Americans – and be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the head of the Justice Department and the country’s top law enforcement official, said, “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”
A ‘terrorist attack’
The streets of Charlottesville were quiet Sunday. Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer told NBC the killing of Heather Heyer was a “terrorist attack with a car used as a weapon.”
The car’s driver, James Alex Fields Jr., from the midwestern state of Ohio, was arrested and charged with murder and other offenses.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe visited two Charlottesville churches to talk about the violence, a day after he told the white nationalists, many of them from out of state, that they were not welcome in Virginia and to go home.
He had declared a state of emergency on Saturday after fights broke out between armor-clad, shield-carrying white nationalist demonstrators gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue and similarly armed counter-protesters.
“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home,” McAuliffe said at a news conference. “You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”
“The acts and rhetoric in Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable and must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence,” he tweeted.
Trump, speaking Saturday from his golf resort in New Jersey, condemned “the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in Charlottesville.
He called for a “swift restoration of law and order” in the city, adding “no citizen should ever fear for their safety and security.”
Shortly after Saturday’s rally was canceled, a car rammed into people in a street as they were leaving a counter-protest. Video showed people flying in the air, as the car’s driver sped forward and then abruptly in reverse.
The incident involving the car occurred as people were leaving the area after police deemed the demonstration unlawful; multiple bouts of violence had broken out between the white supremacist demonstrators and counter-protesters.
Hundreds from both sides were involved in Saturday’s violence, throwing punches as well as water bottles and other items. Police used tear gas to separate participants, but critics said police did not move decisively to keep the protesting groups separate from each other to prevent the violence from spiraling.
In pictures: Charlottesville Rocked by White Nationalist Protests
Before the Saturday violence, torch-bearing white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus on Friday night and gathered around the statue of General Robert E. Lee, a Confederate Civil War hero. They shouted epithets and such slogans as “white lives matter,” a take on the grass-roots organization Black Lives Matter, which was created after several killings of black Americans by police officers.
The city voted in April to remove the statue, a move being taken by many U.S. cities against such Confederate memorials. Since then, the city has been a focus of white nationalists.
One demonstrator at Saturday’s protest, who did not give his name, told VOA, “We want to keep the statue because we think that it is an important symbol of our heritage and our people. It is meaningful. Its meaning is implicitly connected to white people … in preserving our heritage and preserving the white race, our white heroes. Robert E. Lee is one of those heroes.”
Kasey Landrum, however, from the counter protest group, told VOA, “I am here because white nationalists, white supremacists, Nazis, whatever you call them, they are the same thing. They represent the structures of evil, which in this case is white supremacy and that is an assault on all of us … Unless we stand up against that … they are going to continue to harm us all.”