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United States

Nazi sympathiser ‘who drove into crowd at Charlottesville, Virginia, rally’ faces federal hate-crime charges

US Justice Department charges James Alex Fields Jnr with death of Heather Heyer and 28 other counts as white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 2:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 5:33am

The US Department of Justice charged James Alex Fields Jnr, the driver accused of murdering a counterprotester at last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, with multiple hate-crime counts on Wednesday.

The charges include one hate-crime act that led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32, a counterprotester who was run over when Fields allegedly drove his car into a throng of anti-racist marchers.

Alleged Charlottesville killer James Fields ‘idolised Hitler’

The Justice Department also charged Fields with 28 counts of hate crimes “causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill.” Those charges are related to the dozens of people injured in the same event.

“At the Department of Justice, we remain resolute that hateful ideologies will not have the last word and that their adherents will not get away with violent crimes against those they target,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

“Last summer’s violence in Charlottesville cut short a promising young life and shocked the nation. Today’s indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation.”

After the incident, one of Fields’ former high school classmates, Derek Weimer, said Fields had a keen interest in military history, Hitler and Nazi Germany.

“Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolisation of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy,” Weimer said. “It would start to creep out.”

White nationalists with torches march on University of Virginia

Trump’s former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said at the time that the attack “meets the definition of terrorism”.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi organisations and far right white nationalists groups converged on Charlottesville to take part in a torchlight march across the University of Virginia campus on August 11 and a Unite the Right rally the following day.

Both events were marked by racist and homophobic slurs and chants including “Jews will not replace us” and ‘Our blood, our soil!“ And both events rapidly descended into violence as marchers and counterprotesters clashed on the streets of the typically placid college town.

White supremacist leaders Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, both University of Virginia graduates, organised the weekend events, primarily to protest the decision by the city to remove a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a downtown park and rename the park Emancipation Park, but also, they said, to protect white heritage and white civil rights.

Marchers at the Saturday rally – many armed with guns, clubs and bats – met fierce opposition from community members and anti-fascist demonstrators. Clashes erupted at the park and across the city.

Law enforcement officers did not act immediately to break up altercations and stood by while fights broke out in front of them.

US President Donald Trump was heavily criticised for his comments after the events. Initially, he appeared reluctant to decry racists and neo-Nazis by name and instead condemned violence “on many sides”, then in remarks days later said there were “very fine people on both sides”.