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Car Hits Crowd After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Violence

Protests of a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate general led to clashes that left at least one person dead and 34 others injured, officials said.

Later in the day, a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near a golf course and burst into flames, leaving at least two people dead. The helicopter appeared to have been monitoring the protests.

Witnesses to the crash said a gray sports car accelerated into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, who were moving jubilantly near the mall after the white nationalists had left, hurling at least two people in the air.

“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Robert Armengol, who was at the scene reporting for a podcast he hosts with students at the University of Virginia. “After that it was pandemonium. The car hit reverse and sped and everybody who was up the street in my direction started running.”

The planned rally was promoted as “Unite the Right” and both its organizers and critics said they expected it to be one of the largest gathering of white nationalists in recent times, attracting groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and movement leaders like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Many of these groups have felt emboldened since the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Mr. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”

Saturday afternoon, President Trump, speaking at the start of a veterans’ event at his golf club in Bedminister, N.J., again addressed what he described as “the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

In his comments, President Trump condemned the bloody protests, but he did not specifically criticize the white nationalist rally and its neo-Nazi slogans beyond blaming “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

“It’s been going on for a long time in our country, it’s not Donald Trump, it’s not Barack Obama,” said Mr. Trump, adding that he had been in contact with Virginia officials. After calling for the “swift restoration of law and order,” he offered a call for unity among Americans of “all races, creeds and colors.”

The president came under criticism from some who said he had not responded strongly enough against racism and that he failed to condemn the white nationalists groups by name who were behind the rally.

Among the critics was the mayor of Charlottesville, Mike Signer. “I do hope that he looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with during his campaign,” he said.

The turmoil in Charlottesville began with a march Friday night by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia and escalated Saturday morning as demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue inside the park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Hundreds of counterprotesters — religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fascist groups known as “antifa” — quickly surrounded the park, singing spirituals, chanting and carrying their own signs.

The morning started peacefully, with the white nationalists gathering in McIntire Park, outside downtown, and the counterdemonstrators — including Cornel R. West, the Harvard University professor and political activist — gathering at the First Baptist Church, a historically African-American church here. Professor West, who addressed the group at a sunrise prayer service, said he had come “bearing witness to love and justice in the face of white supremacy.”

At McIntire Park, the white nationalists waved Confederate flags and other banners. As a photographer took pictures, one of them, who gave his name only as Ted because he said he might want to run for political office some day, said he was from Missouri, and added, “I’m tired of seeing white people pushed around.”

But by 11 a.m., after both sides had made their way to Emancipation Park, the scene had exploded into taunting, shoving and outright brawling.

Barricades encircling the park and separating the two sides began to come down, and the police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air. One of the white nationalists left the park bleeding, his head wrapped in gauze.

Declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, the police had cleared the area before noon, and the Virginia National Guard arrived as officers began arresting some who remained. But fears lingered that the altercation would start again nearby, as demonstrators dispersed in smaller groups.

Within an hour, politicians, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, had condemned the violence.

The first public response from the White House came from the first lady, Melania Trump, who wrote on Twitter: “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Justice Department agents would support local and state officials in an investigation of Saturday’s events.

“This kind of violence is totally contrary to American values and can never be tolerated,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement.

Former President Barack Obama responded to the violence sending three tweets with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love... For love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”

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