A 32-year-old woman died Saturday in a car ramming that capped a day of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia after white nationalist groups rallied against the city-ordered removal of a statue of the general who led southern forces in the US Civil War.
Nineteen other people were injured when the car rammed into counter-protestors on a street in the centre of the university city located about 187 kilometres south-west of Washington, the city said on Twitter.
In a separate incident, two police officers were killed when a helicopter thought to have been monitoring the protests crashed in a wooded area near the city.
Nobody on the ground was injured and Virginia State Police said the cause of the accident was being investigated.
President Donald Trump expressed his condolences on Twitter to the families of the woman killed and the helicopter victims, describing the police as “among the best this nation produces.”
Fifteen other injuries were reported in a day of chaos and violence touched off by the rally, which attracted leaders and members of the country’s largest neo-Nazi group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan joined in with the protests along with various activists associated with the so-called “alt-right,” militia members and Confederate heritage groups, news reports said.
Trump condemned the violence but was criticized for not mentioning the role of white nationalists in his public statements or on Twitter.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said, speaking from his golf resort at Bedminster, New Jersey.
He urged Americans “to come together … with love for our nation and true affection for each other.”
Trump, who had scheduled the appearance to sign a bill providing funding for veterans’ health care programmes, ignored questions shouted by reporters asking why he would not denounce white nationalists who were at the rally, including David Duke, former leader of the racist white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.
Duke said the groups represented at the rally wanted to “take our country back” and “fulfil the promises of Donald Trump.” Duke was seen making the comments in a video posted by the Indianapolis Star.
The white nationalist groups organized their “Unite the Right” march and rally to protest the removal of a monument to civil war general Robert E Lee.
Violence erupted early in the day as people shouted and cursed at one another, shoved each other, threw projectiles and used clubs during street fights, according to news reports.
Police in riot gear stepped in, and both Virginia’s governor and local law enforcement authorities declared a state of emergency.
The car ramming occurred as counter-protesters marched toward the centre of the city after police ordered white nationalists to clear a park and declared the “Unite the Right” demonstration illegal.
The driver of the car reversed and sped away but was later arrested and police said the crash was being investigated as vehicular homicide.
The Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville in July over the same statue of Robert E Lee, the general who led the Confederate army of the US southern states during the US civil war.
Charlottesville’s city council recently voted to remove the statue, drawing both public support and outcry.
Opponents of the statue say it represents some of the darker chapters of US history when slavery was legal and racism was the norm. But people who want it preserved said taking it away would be like removing a piece of history that they say only commemorates the individual.
White nationalist groups organized their events ostensibly to express their opposition to the plan to remove the statue.