Violence has broken out ahead of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, forcing city, county and state authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Police have now declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and have moved in to disperse the crowds.
The state police have been deployed, with riot police and the National Guard waiting in the wings. Officials were forced to issue the emergency declaration almost an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin.
Governor McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency to aid state response to violence at Alt-Right rally in Charlottesville
— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) August 12, 2017
Right-wing protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators before the “Unite the Right” rally against plans to remove a statue honouring a Confederate general from a Charlottesville park.
Pepper spray—used, reportedly, by both counter-protesters and those attending the rally—filled the air, local media said.
Bottles were thrown and a number of fist fights broke out.
But initially there did not appear to have been a large police presence around the groups of fighting protesters.
Earlier in the day apparent militia members had been filmed marching through the streets armed with assault rifles and wearing tactical gear.
Other demonstrators were heard to chant the Nazi-linked phrase “blood and soil” as they passed through the streets.
And on Friday night neo-Nazi protesters brandishing flaming torches descended on the University of Virginia, brawling with counter-protesters and throwing Nazi salutes.
— Craig Stanley (@_CraigStanley) August 12, 2017
The state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe said on Friday: “Many of the individuals coming to Charlottesville tomorrow are doing so in order to express viewpoints many people, including me, find abhorrent.”
He urged people to stay away and “deny those ideas more attention than they deserve”.