A care worker who fought off white supremacist attackers in Charlottesville with an improvised flame thrower said he had set out for a peaceful protest against “Nazis who took over my town”.
Corey Long had joined the hundreds of demonstrators in the Virginia city who turned out to heckle at radicals including Ku Klux Klan members who were marching in an ultra right-wing rally.
But the 23-year-old said the scene quickly turned violent when one of the thousands of extremists who had taken to the streets fired a gun next to his feet - while police nearby failed to react.
Another extremist later lunged at Mr Long with a confederate flag and he fought back with a spray can he said he found on the ground, putting a lighter to the nozzle and turning it into a weapon.
The image of the counter-protester firing flames at the radical marchers went viral and is said to capture the horror of the protests that sparked clashes and left one woman dead.
Mr Long said: “I went out to voice my opinion. To have my freedom of speech. Just like the racist Nazis who took over my town.
“At first it was peaceful protest. Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”
But he claimed the police stood by and did nothing when the right-wing marchers turned violent against counter-protestors in clashes that left 19 injured.
“The cops were protecting the Nazis, instead of the people who live in the city,” Mr Long said. “The cops basically just stood in their line and looked at the chaos. The cops were not protecting the people of Charlottesville. They were protecting the outsiders.”
Mr Long said he and his friend Deandre Harris were forced to flee when scores of the right-wing protesters charged at them, and they ran for cover in a car parking area. “The white supremacists told us to ‘die nigger’ in the garage.”
He said he fought off his attackers with a stick and fled again but extremists continued to pursue the pair. “The Nazis tried to force their way into the stairway that we were hiding in. The fact was that they (photographers) just stood around recording everything. The fact that they didn’t help us . . . It was outrageous.”
Mr Harris later said he suffered serious injuries to his head after white supremacists beat him with metal poles.
The violence erupted after thousands of extremists marched on the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday before demonstrators turned on counter protestors and lashed amid violent clashes.
“Pure hatred is what happened in Charlottesville,” Mr Long said. “The fact that anyone can hate someone because of their skin colour is ridiculous, but the fact that the President doesn’t speak on it is outrageous.”
Donald Trump was criticised for failing to explicitly condemn far-right groups for the violence waged by white supremacists in the Virginia city – only tweeting that he abhorred hatred “on many sides”.
But the US President caved in under pressure from critics including fellow Republicans, and in a brief statement in the White House, said: “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”