U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, of the Western District of Virginia, gestures during a news conference concerning the indictment of James Alex Fields in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Hate crime charges levelled after Charlottesville attack

James Alex Fields was charged with 30 counts, including the hate crime resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, during the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally

A reputed Hitler admirer accused of plowing a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing a young woman, was charged Wednesday with federal hate crimes in a case that stirred accusations last summer that President Donald Trump was giving a free pass to racists.

James Alex Fields Jr., who already faced murder and other charges under Virginia law, was indicted on 30 additional federal charges stemming from the 2017 attack that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured dozens of others who had gathered to protest a rally of white nationalists.

“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.”

With his statement and the decision to bring the charges, Sessions struck a sharply different tone than the president, who sparked an uproar last year when he blamed the violence at the rally on “both sides.”

Described by a former teacher as having a keen interest in Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, Fields allegedly drove his speeding car into a group of people demonstrating against the “Unite the Right” rally. The Aug. 12 event drew hundreds of white nationalists to the college town, where officials planned to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The car attack came after the rally had descended into chaos, with brawling breaking out between white nationalists and counterdemonstrators. Authorities then forced the crowd to disband.

Related: 3 dead in violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

Related: Trump revisits Charlottesville comments in angry tirade

Fields, 21, of Maumee, Ohio, has been in custody since the attack. Prosecutor Joseph Platania said in a statement that the federal indictment would have no effect on the pending state case.

The attorney representing Fields on those counts declined to comment. Fields is expected to appear in federal court soon, possibly next week.

The eight-page indictment alleges that he decided to attend the rally on or before Aug. 8. As he prepared to leave for Charlottesville, a family member sent him a text message urging him to be careful.

Fields replied, “We’re not the ones who need to be careful,” and attached an image of Hitler, according to the indictment, which also says Fields used social media to promote racist views, including support for the Holocaust.

At the rally, he engaged in chants promoting white supremacy and other racist and anti-Semitic views, the indictment said.

After the crowd broke up, Fields drove his car toward the area where a “racially and ethnically diverse crowd” had gathered to protest, the indictment said.

He “rapidly accelerated, through a stop sign and across a raised pedestrian mall, and drove directly into the crowd,” it said.

Surveillance footage from a Virginia State Police helicopter monitoring the event captured the moment of impact by the car and showed the vehicle as it reversed and drove away. It was pulled over a relatively short time later.

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said the civil rights charges against Fields were “the most serious possible under federal law.”

The indictment brought charges under two hate crime statutes, including the one under which Dylann Roof was prosecuted for the 2015 killings of nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Twenty-nine of the counts were brought under that statute, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

A single count was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. That charge accused Fields of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity — in this case, the use of the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville. The charge is death-penalty eligible, although that decision has not yet been made, Cullen said.

The federal case is not the first to be filed by Sessions’ Justice Department, but it is certainly the highest-profile one. His critics have aired concerns for the last year about what they see as less aggressive enforcement of civil rights laws and the department’s lack of intervention with police departments that have troubled relationships with minorities.

Kristen Clarke, a former hate crimes prosecutor and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement that her group was pleased with the federal indictment but that more work remains to be done to address the country’s growing “hate crime crisis.”

Silence on Sessions’ part “was simply not an option” because the Charlottesville rally “stands as one of the most violent hate rallies to be carried out in this country in recent time,” she said.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, told news outlets, including Roanoke television station WDBJ7, that she had not read the full indictment yet and was not sure yet how she felt about it.

“I think it’s a tragedy all the way around,” Bro said. “I lost my child, but he’s also so young to be so stupid, and I really hate that for him. But I didn’t make the choices. He made them.”

___

Rankin reported from Richmond. Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

Sarah Rankin And Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Chemainus Theatre promises next year will be a record-breaker

Mama Mia one of three blockbuster shows theatre brass expect to draw big audiences

Ladysmith Interact club students inspired and inspiring

Ladysmith Secondary School group making a difference in their community

Driver unharmed in high-speed rollover crash on Trans-Canada Highway

Jeep and minivan involved in collision near Nanaimo River Road

IIO doesn’t recommend charges after motorcyclist death in Mill Bay

An off-duty VicPD officer was involved in the crash

New wind warning for most of Vancouver Island

Forecasters are calling for strong winds up to 90km/h for some areas

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Boeser has 2 points as Canucks ground Flyers 5-1

WATCH: Vancouver has little trouble with slumping Philly side

Man dies after falling from B.C. bridge

Intoxicated man climbed railing, lost his balance and fell into the water below

B.C. animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

‘I practically begged’: Kootenay woman with breast cancer denied referral to Calgary

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

21 detained before Paris protests as police deploy in force

There was a strong police presence outside the central Saint Lazare train station, where police in riot gear checked bags

Most Read