Charlottesville rally: Man charged with murder after car 'ploughs through crowds at anti-racism protest'

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A man has been charged with murder after three people died amid violent clashes at a protest against a white supremacist rally in Virginia.

During the confrontations, a car ploughed into a crowd of protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring more than a dozen others.

And shortly after the incident, a Virginia State Police helicopter above the rally crashed outside Charlottesville, killing the pilot and a trooper.

The chaos boiled over after white nationalists from all over the US gathered together to protest against plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee.

Crash: First responders stand by a car that was struck when a car drove through a group of counter protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally (REUTERS)

That gathering sparked a counter-demonstration by others protesting against racism.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared an emergency and police in riot gear were brought into to disperse crowds.  

Matt Korbon, 22, a University of Virginia student, said several hundred counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tyre screeching sound”.

Violent scenes: A woman receives first-aid after a car ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville (AFP/Getty Images)

A silver Dodge Challenger is believed to have smashed into another car, before reversing and driving through “a sea of people”.

The impact allegedly hurled people into the air and those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety.

Police later said they suspect the driver was James Fields, 20, of Ohio. He has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene. A bail hearing will take place on Monday.

Charged: James Alex Fields, Jr., allegedly ploughed a car into a crowds (AFP/Getty Images)

US president Donald Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he called an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” after the clashes and called for “a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives”.

He said he and Mr McAuliffe “agreed that the hate and the division must stop and must stop right now”.

Field’s mother, Samantha Bloom, said she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but did not know it was a white supremacist event.

Violence: Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters (AP)

“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” she said.

“He had an African-American friend so …,” she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she would be surprised if her son’s views were that far right.

Ms Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally, said she and her son had just moved to the Toledo area from the northern Kentucky city of Florence, where Fields grew up.

Kileld: Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, left, and Lt. H. Jay Cullen (AP)

The turbulence began on Friday night, when the white nationalists carried torches though the University of Virginia campus.

It quickly spiralled into violence Saturday morning. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. 

Authorities said the car collision left 19 people injured and a total of 35 patients were treated.

One killed after car ploughs into protesters in Virginia

State police said the helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation” when it crashed in a wooded area.

The pilot, Lieutenant Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates of Quinton, Virginia, died at the scene.

Some of the white nationalists cited Mr Trump’s election victory as validation for their beliefs and Trump critics pointed to the president’s rhetoric as exploiting America’s festering racial tension.

Charlottesville: President Donald Trump condemned the violence (AP)

Charlottesville’s mayor Michael Signer argued that Mr Trump’s election campaign last year fed the flames of prejudice and said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president,” he said.

But the Presdident blamed “many sides” for the violent clashes and stressed the “hatred and bigotry” broadcast across the country had taken root long before his political ascendancy.

Speaking from a podium set up in the golf clubhouse, Mr Trump said that he had spoken to governor McAuliffe.

“We agreed that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and … true affection for each other,” he said.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

“It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.”

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