It was a frightening sight at the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville on Friday night as hundreds of white nationalists carrying torches got together for what looked like an impromptu rally. The demonstration took place a day before thousands of white nationalists are expected to descend on Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” event in the city’s Emancipation Park for what the Southern Povery Law Center has said could amount to “the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
The torch-lit rally recalled a similar event that took place in May amid a continuing dispute over the proposed removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the park. The torch carriers clashed with a small group of counterprotesters who described themselves as “anti-fascists.”
At least one person was arrested and others were treated for minor injuries as fights broke out at a statue of former President Thomas Jefferson. It seems the counterprotesters circled the Jefferson statue and linked arms only to be surrounded by the torch-carrying white nationalists before scuffles broke out. There are several reports of the white nationalists deploying pepper spray against the counterprotesters, although the white nationalists also said they were hit by pepper spray.
The march—which was largely made up of men in their 20s and 30s—seems to have lasted only 20 minutes, but it was a stark preview of what could be expected at Saturday’s Unite the Right rally. Although some estimate that there could be thousands of people at the rally, they may very well be outnumbered by counterprotesters. Local leaders are trying to urge people to stay away. “I want to urge my fellow Virginians, who may consider joining, either in support or opposition to the planned rally, to make alternative plans,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said. Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam called on counterprotesters to deny white supremacists “the satisfaction” of an “ugly and violent” response to their rally.
“I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” Mayor Mike Singer said in a statement. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah also condemned the march, saying that “their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.”
Local newspaper the Daily Progress used the phrase “fire and fury” as the front-page headline for its story on the torch-carrying protesters. President Donald Trump had used the words earlier in the week: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”