A state of emergency has been declared around Charlottesville, Virginia, amid clashes between far-right demonstrators and counterprotesters.
Gov. Terry McAullife declared a state of emergency late Saturday morning moments before the “Unite the Right” rally and counterprotests were scheduled to begin around Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, according to a tweet sent from his Twitter account.
Both the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County have also each declared a local state of emergency, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Thousands of demonstrators had been expected to attend the “Unite the Right” rally Saturday afternoon in addition to counterprotests scheduled across Charlottesville, a city of only roughly 50,000, in response to its recent decision to remove a state of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.
Jason Kessler, the organizer of “Unite the Right,” described the event in paperwork filed with the city as a “free speech rally in support of the Lee monument.” In a statement Friday evening, however, Mr. McAullife asked Virginians to avoid the area after learning that extremist groups sought “to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials.”
“In the event that such violent or unlawful conduct occurs, I have instructed state public safety officials to act quickly and decisively in order to keep the public and themselves safe,” the governor said Friday, adding that the Virginia National Guard would be “standing by to respond if needed.”
SEE ALSO: Virginia National Guard on standby ahead of opposing rallies Saturday in Charlottesville
In his tweet Saturday, Mr. McAullife said a state of emergency has been declared “to aid state response to violence” at the alt-right rally.
The Charlottesville Police Department announced around the same time that protesters were effectively participating in an unlawful assembly and ordered people to leave the vicinity of Emancipation Park or risk arrest, the Times-Dispatch reported.
Eyewitnesses reported moments earlier that far-right demonstrators and counterprotesters alike had already begun scuffling on the streets of Charlottesville well before the rally’s noon start time. Similar clashes Friday evening reportedly resulted in several injuries and at least one arrest.
“The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence,” the governor tweeted Saturday morning.
Charlottesville voted in April to remove the statue honoring the Civil War general and to rename the former Lee Park. The monument has remained at Emancipation Park pending further proceedings.