Tensions flared and protesters clashed in Virginia early Saturday ahead of a massive gathering of white nationalists, neo-Confederates and alt-right activists.
Thousands descended upon the usually sleepy college town of Charlottesville, hours after torch-carrying white nationalists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia.
A state of emergency was declared by Charlottesville officials just after 11 a.m., according to the Daily Progress.
At least two people were injured earlier as protesters and opponents stormed into a downtown park and used pepper spray on one another, officials told the newspaper. Plastic bottles and other objects were lobbed between the two sides.
The quaint town of 46,000, near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, has become an epicenter of outrage over the removal of Confederate statues across the South.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who had placed the National Guard on standby, declared a state of emergency “to aid state response to violence at Alt-Right rally in Charlottesville” around noon.
Among those in attendance were “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler, alt-right leader Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke.
Camouflage-clad men in combat gear, many carrying rifles, shields and Confederate flags, clashed with counter-protesters.
Cops began trying to disperse the crowd shortly before noon as violent clashes continued and officials declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
Officials used bullhorns to tell people to leave or “they will be arrested.” The order could barely be heard over drumming and shouting, according to the ACLU of Virginia, which posted video showing what appeared to be tear gas being fired on the crowds.
McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency “to aid state response to violence at Alt-Right rally in Charlottesville.”
The event, planned to take place in Emancipation Park, was given the green light by U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad after right-wing blogger and rally organizer Jason Kessler filed a lawsuit against the city when officials sought to change the location.
Kessler sued Charlottesville over free speech violations after the officials ordered the rally moved to a larger venue because of safety concerns.
In a statement, the city said it would honor the judge’s decision.
Kessler is being represented in his case by the Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
Friday night’s torch rally, which had all the markings of a Ku Klux Klan gathering, led to one arrest and several injures.
As the violence escalated on Saturday, politicians and leaders from across the political spectrum voiced their concerns over the violence.
“The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted.
President Trump called for unity in a brief statement on social media.
“We ALL 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!” Trump wrote.
Many critics had condemned Trump for not speaking out earlier.
“President Trump’s silence as #Charlottesville roils with racist and fascist provocation is shameful, irresponsible…and, DEFINING,” tweeted Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Trump is in the middle of a 17 day break from Washington in which he has spent the bulk of his time at his New Jersey golf resort.
First lady Melania Trump issued a statement of her own.
“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville,” she tweeted.