Members of armed groups, who decry violence and racism, say they visited Virginia to defend free speech – but white nationalists had ‘come to fight’

With their loaded assault rifles and pistols, camouflage, combat boots and helmets, it looked like the army had descended on the pretty college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, as a white supremacy rally turned violent last weekend.

The US military did turn up, in fact, in the form of the Virginia national guard, otherwise known as the army reserve, called into service to back up the police when a state of emergency was declared at 11am on Saturday morning by Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who told the far-right marchers to “go home”.

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