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Black man who wielded flamethrower during white nationalist rally in Charlottesville is arrested

Black man who wielded flamethrower during white nationalist rally in Charlottesville is arrested
A counterprotester, later identified as Corey Long of Culpeper, Va., uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville in a photo that went viral. (Steve Helber / AP)

Corey Long, the black man who wielded an improvised flamethrower against white nationalists two months ago at a violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. — an incident captured in a photo that went viral — has become the second black counterprotester in two days to be arrested in relation to the rally.

Charlottesville police investigators arrested Long, 23, of Culpeper, Va., Friday on charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct — a move that is likely to draw strong criticism from anti-racism advocates who have accused law enforcement of not acting swiftly enough to quell the violence that broke out during the August rally or to arrest a group of white men who were videotaped beating another black counterprotester, DeAndre Harris.

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Lt. Stephen Upman, a Charlottesville police spokesman, said the disorderly conduct charge is related to the makeshift flamethrower and the assault and battery charge is related to a separate skirmish during the rally.

A series of confrontations took place in Charlottesville Aug. 12 when hundreds of white supremacists gathered for a Unite the Right rally to protest the city's plan to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

After a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, died and 19 were injured after a car rammed into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, President Trump provoked outrage by blaming some of the violence on anti-racist protesters.

"What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right?'" Trump said at a news conference at Trump Tower a few days after the incident. "Do they have any semblance of guilt? ... "You had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now."

Long, who was released on an unsecured bond Friday after appearing before a magistrate, declined to comment after his arrest and referred all questions to his attorney, Malik Zulu Shabazz, national president of Black Lawyers for Justice and former national chairman of the New Black Panther Party.

Shabazz, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a "racist black nationalist," did not comment other than to say he would be at Long's court hearing Tuesday.

On Facebook, Long shared a post by Shabazz.

"Getting arrested is no dishonor if you are standing up against hatred and injustice," it began. "Getting shot while on the battlefield is sometimes a necessary reality if you are a true soldier operating against enemy fire in enemy territory."

In a previous interview with the Root, Long suggested he acted in self-defense, noting that a white man had shot at the ground in his direction.

"At first it was peaceful protest," Long told the Root two days after the August rally. "Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground."

In August, Charlottesville police charged Richard Wilson Preston, 52, with discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. A video, provided to the FBI by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, allegedly shows him drawing a pistol, pointing it at the crowd, and then quickly firing a shot at the ground.

Long was widely celebrated by anti-racism advocates after a photographer for the Associated Press captured him wielding a makeshift flamethrower, fashioned, he told the Root, by holding a lighter to a can of spray paint a white nationalist had thrown at him earlier.

"This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with 'fire and fury,'" Doreen St. Félix, a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote. "The resistance has its fire, too."

Long's arrest came a day after Harris, a 20-year-old hip-hop artist who was so badly bludgeoned by a group of white men that he was hospitalized for a concussion and a head laceration that required 12 staples, was taken into custody Thursday for "unlawful wounding."

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"It's very upsetting," his attorney S. Lee Merritt said after the arrest warrant was issued, insisting his client was innocent of the charge. "It seems the judicial system in this case has bent over backwards to further assist in further victimizing DeAndre."

In August, two of Harris' alleged attackers — Alex Michael Ramos, 33, and Daniel Borden, 18 — were arrested after they were identified by activists through video and social media.

Earlier this week, activists celebrated the arrest of a third man: Jacob Goodwin, 22, whom they identified last month as allegedly involved in the attack on Harris.

Goodwin was taken into custody Tuesday by U.S. marshals on a felony warrant out of Virginia, according to the Sheriff's Office in Lonoke County, Ark., where he is from.

Jarvie is a Times special correspondent

UPDATES:

7:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the charges against Corey Long.

This article was originally published at 5:25 p.m.

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