Hundreds of white supremacists carrying burning torches and chanting Nazi-era slogans rallied in Virginia on Friday night before violently clashing with counter-protesters.
The brawl at the University of Virginia came ahead of a much larger rally planned for Saturday, when thousands are expected for what monitors described as the "largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the US".
The “alt-Right” demonstrators gathered late on Friday and chanted “blood and soil” and “one people, one nation, end immigration” as they carried burning torches through the university campus.
“Blood and soil” was a phrase commonly used by the Nazis to hail their ideas about racial superiority and traditional rural life.
The mostly male crowd marched through the empty campus in Charlottesville and rallied around a statue of Thomas Jefferson, who designed the university’s grounds.
There they clashed with a small group of counter-protesters, who had linked arms around the statue. Several people were injured as punches were exchanged and pepper-spray was fired.
Mike Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville, called the white nationalist march “a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights”.
Larry Sabato, a professor at the university, said it was “the most nauseating thing I've ever seen” in his 47 years of being associated with the university.
In my 47 years of association with @UVA, this was the most nauseating thing I've ever seen. We need an exorcism on the Lawn.— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) August 12, 2017
Richard Spencer, the provocateur credited with coining the term alt-Right, was also at the rally.
The torch lit scenes on the university campus may be only a foreshadowing of the much larger demonstrations expected on Saturday at the Unite the Right rally - which is expected to bring together different factions of the alt-Right.
Police expect that between 2,000 and 6,000 demonstrators will gather in Emancipation Park around a statue of Robert E Lee, a Confederate general during the American Civil War.
White nationalist protesters have angrily opposed plans to take down statues of Lee and other Confederate figures who fought for the cause of slavery during the war.
The demonstrators accuse local governments of trying to erase history by removing the statues and often chant “you will not replace us” as they rally around the statues.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks extremist organisations in the US, said that Saturday’s rally may be the "largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the US".
The city of Charlottesville had tried to get the protest moved to another park but the rally organisers sued and a judge ruled they must be allowed in Emancipation Park.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a civil liberties group, supported the nationalist demonstrators in their suit, saying that freedom of speech “applies equally to everyone regardless of their views”.
The ACLU has previously defended the right of the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups to hold rallies.
The governor of Virginia has urged people to stay away from the rally and not to take part in counter-protests.