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Nation responds to violent weekend with vigils, calls to remove Confederate symbols

AP

A single weekend in a small Virginia college town disrupted the whole nation.

On Friday, tiki torch-toting white nationalists congregated at the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., in what they called a “Unite the Right” rally.

On Saturday, counter protesters arrived to flood out messages of hate. Violence erupted. A car bulldozed through a crowd. A 32-year-old woman died; dozens of others were injured. Two state police officers crashed in a helicopter while responding to the scene.

On Sunday, swiftly organized candlelight vigils swept the country, from Miami to Sacramento to the intersection of Fourth and Water streets in Charlottesville.

In Sarasota’s Five Points Park, Mary Onna Bode, founder of the group Indivisible Bradenton Pro-gressive, said hundreds gathered Sunday evening to mourn the death of Heather Heyer, apparently killed by the car that punched through the Charlottesville crowd.

The accused driver, James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, is charged with second-degree murder and was denied bond Monday, according to The Daily Progress. The Associated Press reported that Fields Jr. was “fascinated with Nazism.”

Virginia State police officers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates also died in a helicopter crash hours later while responding to the unrest.

“This is something that you keep asking, ‘Why? Why is this happening?’” Bode said.

At the Sarasota vigil, those gathered discussed “the need for equality and acceptance and power in communication to stop this bigotry.”

“We have hate groups right here in our backyard,” she said.

She referred to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, which shows a Lakewood Ranch P.O. box for the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group.

But no one appeared to have protested the vigil, Bode said.

The group plans to demonstrate outside of the Manatee County courthouse next Monday, Aug. 21, where there has been a Confederate statue since 1924, erected by the Judah P. Benjamin chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They are also encouraging public comment during a county commission meeting the following day.

“We’re standing up for the rights of everyone,” Bode said.

After the weekend, several cities across the country are joining the conversation in removing Confederate statues from public areas.

“Old Joe,” which stood outside of the Alachua County Administration Building in Gainesville in 1904, was removed Monday morning, according to The Gainesville Sun. Catherine Pugh, the mayor of Baltimore, told The Baltimore Sun she wanted to “move forward with the removal of the statues.” Statues near the former Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., will be moved, said Mayor Jim Gray, according to the Herald-Leader.

Last month, closer to home, Hillsborough county commissioners voted to relocate a Confederate statue outside of the old Tampa courthouse to a private cemetery.

On Monday, President Donald Trump said he condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” two days after he put blame on “many sides” for the chaos in Virginia and failed to directly condemn hate groups.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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