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Charlottesville protests: a quick guide to the violent clashes this weekend

Here’s a short breakdown of the big news you may have missed.

A group of racist protesters surround anti-fascism and anti-racism counterprotesters. Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post via Getty Images

All hell broke loose in America over the weekend due to protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In short, white supremacists descended on Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to take down Confederate monuments. But the demonstrations quickly got violent, as the white supremacists intimidated and attacked counterprotesters — and then a car, driven by a man with the white supremacists, rammed into counterprotesters.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s reaction — or lack thereof — became a major story in its own right after he refused to condemn the white supremacists in particular, initially blaming “many sides” for hatred, bigotry, and violence. The statement seemed like yet another example of Trump pandering to white supremacists.

If you’re still catching up on a head-turning series of events, here’s a more detailed breakdown of what’s happened so far.

Protesters clashed in Charlottesville, and a reported Nazi sympathizer killed a counterprotester

  • White supremacists went to Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to tear down Confederate monuments, particularly a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. This has become a hot-button topic over the past several years, as civil rights groups and protesters have condemned the monuments as symbols of a Confederacy that fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy in America.
  • On Friday, some of the white supremacist protesters — made up of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan — brandished torches and marched onto the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. When they were met by counterprotesters, they surrounded and eventually attacked the counterprotesters, triggering brawls.
  • On Saturday, white supremacists planned to hold a bigger rally — dubbed “Unite the Right” — at noon.
  • Things quickly spun out of control as protesters and counterprotesters faced off and clashed around the city. Eventually, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police told the crowds to disperse.
  • As one group of counterprotesters moved away from the demonstrations, a Dodge Challenger, allegedly driven by reported Nazi sympathizer Alex Fields, drove into the crowd. The driver killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a local from Charlottesville who went to the protests to, her mother and friends said, stand against hate and bigotry.
  • Meanwhile, a state police helicopter responding to the protests crashed, killing two pilots.
  • In total, at least three people were killed (counting those who died in the helicopter crash) and dozens others were injured as a result of the white supremacist protests.

Trump condemned violence on “many sides” — a statement seen as woefully inadequate

  • After all the chaos on Saturday, Trump held a previously scheduled bill signing event. But he used the moment to speak about the chaos in Charlottesville. He said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
  • The statement quickly drew criticism for presenting a false equivalency between white supremacists, who literally killed at least one person, and counterprotesters who were actually there to demonstrate against hate, bigotry, and violence.
  • Asked to clarify the statement, a White House official doubled down: “The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.” It was only after a day of criticism that the White House — but not Trump himself — on Sunday clarified that when Trump condemned violence and bigotry on “many sides,” “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis and all extremist groups.”

In the aftermath, there were a lot of other responses to the chaos in Charlottesville from public officials and activists across the country. The mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, vowed to speed up plans to take down Confederate statues in his city. TIKI Brand Products denounced the use of its torches for a white supremacist march. Progressive activists held “Solidarity With Charlottesville” demonstrations. The web hosting service GoDaddy said it will cut off the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer.

Now the focus is on Trump’s unwillingness to condemn the white supremacists involved in the protests. Already on Monday, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in protest. In response, Trump criticized Frazier for high drug prices (Merck is a pharmaceutical company), but again made no comment specifically about white supremacists. It remains to be seen whether Trump will say anything else about what happened in Charlottesville anytime soon.

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