Hours before a noon rally was set to begin Saturday, violent skirmishes broke out between bands of white supremacists and counterprotesters who have converged on this college town around the issue of a Confederate statue.
Men in combat gear, some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs and sticks and makeshift shields fought each other in the downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed each other with chemical irritants and plastic bottles were hurled through the air.
State police and Charlottesville police in riot gear were stationed on side streets but were not in the most concentrated areas where protesters and counterprotesters were brawling. Gov. Terry McAuliffe had placed the National Guard on standby but they, too, were not in the downtown area where the morning clashes were occurring.
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