President Donald Trump condemned an “egregious display of hatred and bigotry” at a rally of white nationalists in Virginia, saying there was “no place” for violent protests in America as a vehicle appeared to deliberately ram into demonstrators.
After the state’s governor declared a state of emergency to quell the growing conflict in Charlottesville, Trump said via Twitter that the country “must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
In the midst of the protest, a Dodge Charger mowed down dozens of peaceful marchers assembled in the area. A spokesperson for the University of Virginia Hospital cited one death and at least 19 injured, with 5 considered in critial condition. The driver of the car was apprehended, officials said, with various outlets reporting his name as James Alex Fields, Jr., a 20-year old Ohio resident.
Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer said in a post on Twitter that he was “heartbroken” over the loss of life, and urged protesters to “go home” in order to defuse the situation.
In a news conference, Trump denounced what he called an “egregious display of hatred and bigotry” displayed by antagonists “on many sides” — a seemingly noncommittal characterization that drew an immediate backlash on social media. The president also called for a “swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”
In a statement issued after the president’s news conference, the White House defended Trump’s use of “both sides,” saying that he “was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”
Saturday’s confrontation sowed chaos in Charlottesville, a picturesque college town home to the University of Virginia—one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country—and two U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. It was the latest escalation of a conflict that arose earlier this year, when the city voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
Vice President Mike Pence echoed the president’s plea for calm, saying that the United States “is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us.”
Trump and Pence’s remarks came as politicians in both major parties denounced the rally’s intolerance. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 contender for the GOP nomination, posted on Twitter that there was “nothing patriotic” about the rally’s participants, adding that their beliefs stood in “direct opposite of what America should be.”
The conflict reached a crescendo on Friday evening, when supporters who identify as ‘alt-right’—a key constituency of Trump’s electoral base that helped usher him into the White House—took to the streets carrying torches. They clashed with counter-protesters, exchanging insults and at some points throwing punches and hurling water bottles.
–The Associated Press contributed to this article.