Police stand guard near the rally site in Charlottesville, Virginia, the United States, Aug. 12, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, the United States, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Violent clashes marked by a fatal end disrupted a commonly quiet weekend in Charlottesville, a historic college town in the U.S. state of Virginia, as a racially-divided U.S. society was once again put under spotlight.
"It is a sad day for the country," one witness who called himself Jordan told Xinhua after violence erupted between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday, leaving one dead and dozens injured.
The chaotic weekend started Friday night with a torch-bearing march attended by local white nationalists who were outraged by the city's decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past. They chanted "White lives matter" and some Nazi slogans as they marched through the University of Virginia.
They planned a larger "Unite the Right" rally at noon time on Saturday, expected by organizers and critics to be one of the largest gatherings of white nationalists in recent times.
Hundreds of white nationalists and right-wing activists from across the country gathered early in the morning in McIntire Park, outside downtown. They are categorized as supporters of white supremacist ideologies and users of racial slurs to stir violence.
Several streets away, counter-demonstrators, including clergy and political activists, rallied at an African-American church. Harvard University Professor Cornel West said he was coming to the city to "stand against white supremacy."
Both sides later started marching toward Emancipation Park where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is placed. The Charlottesville general commanded forces of pro-slavery Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War.
White nationalists claimed that they took to the street because they were offended by the removal of the Confederate statue, but opponents argued that the "alt-right" rally had nothing to do with the statue.
Jordan said those white supremacists "just want to spew out hatred and ignorance."
The rival protests descended into a turmoil after demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park shortly before 11:00 a.m. local time (1500 GMT).
Most wearing T-shirts and khakis, the helmet- and shield-armed white nationalists waved Confederate flags and chanted Nazi-era slogans before engaging in skirmishes with counter-protesters, including religious leaders, anti-fascist groups, and Black Lives Matter activists, amid racial taunting and shoving.
Caught in orange beams of pepper sprays filling the air, clashing protesters attacked the opposing side with fists, feet, bottles, trash and improvised weapons. Injured demonstrators were seen leaving the chaotic scene, mostly with only cuts and bruises. A witness, Jay, told Xinhua that the clash lasted about 30 minutes.
The National Guard joined the state police to clear the area after the white nationalist gathering was declared an unlawful assembly. Some white nationalists who remained were taken into custody by officers.
A crowd of counter-demonstrators continued to walk down a street in downtown Charlottesville about an hour later where a gray sports car accelerated into them, sending bodies into the air before the vehicle was slammed in reverse to flee the scene and hit more people, 26-year-old Joshua Thomas described.
A spokesperson for the University of Virginia Medical Center said a 32-year-old woman was killed in the car crash and 19 others were wounded, including five in critical condition.
The suspected driver, a 20-year-old Ohio man described as a Nazi sympathizer, was arrested a short time later. He will appear in court Monday to face several charges, including a second-degree murder.
The National Guard and state police blocked the street after paramedics took the injured to the hospital. Dozens of people who were not harmed but were apparently shocked sat on the ground silently, overwhelmed by what had just happened.
Besides casualties caused by the hit-and-run, authorities said another 15 people were injured during the violent clash.
"The violence and death in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement, adding that a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash was opened.
As people held a memorial activity to mourn the female victim inside a downtown park not far way from the car crash site, a state police helicopter that helped monitor the Saturday situation went down, killing two troopers on board while leaving the torn-city in greater shock and grief.
"The violence tells that racism is still a serious problem in a still divided U.S. society," Jordan said. "If that issue is not properly handled, the consequence would be disastrous."