Hundreds of torch-bearing US white supremacists march ahead of far-right rally, attended by KKK
Thousands of people and dozens of far-right speakers are expected to arrive in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday to participate in the planned "Unite the Right" rally, which will include members of the Ku Klux Klan and a host of white supremacist ideologues, such as Richard Spencer.
The gathering could mark one of the most significant demonstrations of its kind in decades, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups.
Ahead of the rally, hundreds of white nationalists carrying torches marched at the University of Virginia late on Friday chanting: "You will not replace us" and "blood and soil."
The decision to use flaming torches appears to mimic the cross-burning imagery of the Ku Klux Klan.
The demonstrators, some of whom made Nazi salutes, also shouted "Jews will not replace us" and "white lives matter" as they marched towards a statue of Thomas Jefferson in the university grounds.
The protesters confronted and surrounded a small group of counter protesters, with at least one person arrested and mace fired into the crowd as police dispersed the demonstration.
Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer, called it a "cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance."
Legacy of slavery
Charlottesville is considered a liberal college town where the overwhelmingly majority voted for Hilary Clinton, but Virginia was once a key slave-owning state which implemented a rigid system of racial apartheid after the US Civil War.
Saturday's "Unite the Right" opposes a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general who led pro-slavery forces in the US civil war, from the town.
White nationalists are also angered at the decision to rename Lee Park, where the statue is located, to Emancipation Park.
The demonstrations highlight the persistent debate in the US South over the legacy of structural racism, with pro-slavery Civil War symbols, such as the Confederate flag, a key battleground.
Last month, dozens of Ku Klux Klan members gathered in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove the statue of Lee but were outnumbered by counter protesters. Rally organiser Jason Kessler, a far-right white supremacist blogger, said this week that Lee was a symbol for white people threatened by "ethnic cleansing."
The US National Guard has been put on alert because of the risk of violence during Saturday's rally, with mass counter demonstrators expected.
"The Charlottesville event could be a potentially historic showcase of hate, bringing together more extremists in one place than we have seen in at least a decade," the Anti-Defamation League said.