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Will Charlottesville mark a tipping point for the United States?

Everyone from the governor of Virginia to his mom and dad were telling Fintan Horan to stay away from this weekend’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

He paid them no mind.

“You have people coming here who say they want to incite violence, so as someone who lives in Charlottesville – you know, this is my back yard … how can I not [get involved]?” says Mr. Horan, a computer science student at the University of Virginia, who lives near where a man, in a possible act of domestic terrorism, was arrested for allegedly plowing his car into a crowd of people, killing one woman and injuring 19. “These people are literally invading my hometown and killing my fellow citizens. It’s absurd.”

Recommended: How well do you know American extremism? Take the quiz.

Horan, who joined a counter-protest Saturday, is far from the only one to have been thrust into the middle of the boldest show of violent white supremacy in the United States in generations.

A coalition of hundreds of the self-described “alt right” – some armed with makeshift armor and weapons and many wearing khakis, Dockers, and golf shirts – descended on Charlottesville with Confederate battle and Nazi flags to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. It was the biggest rally yet of what has become an increasingly common sight across the US as emboldened white supremacists try to build a movement, in part by goading leftists into street fights in blue enclaves such as Berkeley, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and, now, Charlottesville, Va., where 70 percent of people voted for Hillary Clinton.

Twenty-four hours of building tension left the US reeling – and Virginia in a state of emergency – as hatred spilled out into the cobbled streets of Thomas Jefferson’s hometown.

The sight of Americans fighting and intimidating one another with tiki torches, chemical sprays, and fists is a fast-moving twist in a long-running ideological battle over equal rights that has grown less civil as America…

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