Dozens of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus on Friday night carrying torches as they chanted “You will not replace us.”
The demonstrators, who also yelled “blood and soil” — a phrase tied to Nazi ideology — made their way through the Charlottesville campus before encircling a group of counter-protesters gathered around a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
A fight broke out, and some of the white nationalists swung their tiki torches at people, according to the Daily Progress.
Members of both sides were reportedly hit with pepper spray, and several people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Police arrived on campus, declared it an unlawful assembly, and ordered the crowds to disperse. At least one person was arrested.
The event was a precursor to the Unite the Right rally scheduled for Saturday, when a number of far-right groups are expected to make a show of force in response to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.
Sharing a photo of the torch-bearing march on Friday, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler wrote on Twitter, “Incredible moment for white people who’ve had it up to here & aren’t going to take it anymore. Tomorrow we #UnitetheRight #Charlottesville.”Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, who led a similar march in Charlottesville in May, was also at the rally on Friday night.
“I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.
(COURTESY ANDREW SHURTLEFF/THE DAILY PROGRESS)
Mayor Mike Signer released a statement denouncing the march.
“When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty,” he wrote.
“When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights.
“I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
The Unite the Right rally, which is expected to draw 2,000 to 6,000 people, could be the “largest white supremacist gathering in a decade,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe warned people to stay away from the event on Saturday, noting that Virginia State Police and the Virginia National Guard will be monitoring the situation.
Kessler’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Charlottesville on Thursday, claiming their attempts to relocate Saturday’s event to McIntire Park, due to safety considerations, violates his right to free speech.
He is represented by the Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.