US & World

Driver charged with murder after Charlottesville rally

The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. passes near the Market Street Parking Garage moments after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. passes near the Market Street Parking Garage moments after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

The man who authorities believe drove a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors at a white supremacist rally has been charged with murder. 

James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who recently moved to Ohio from Kentucky, was charged with second-degree murder and other counts.

James Alex Fields Jr. is accused of ramming his car into a group of marchers after a white supremacist rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James Alex Fields Jr. is accused of ramming his car into a group of marchers after a white supremacist rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail/Getty Images

Fields was arrested Saturday, after hours of violence following a Unite The Right rally. It is believed to be the largest gathering of white nationalists in a decade. Neo-Nazis, skinheads, members of the Ku Klux Klan and the alt-right descended on the city to "take America back." They were rallying against plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Hundreds of demonstrators also turned up to protest the racism.

There were street brawls and violent clashes. People threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. Some came prepared for a fight, with body armor and helmets. Videos on social media showed people beating each other with sticks and shields.

Peaceful protesters were marching downtown, carrying signs that read "black lives matter" and "love" when a silver Dodge Challenger came barreling through the crowd and smashed into another car.

The impact hurled people into the air and blew off their shoes. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed as she crossed the street. Approximately three dozen people were injured.

"It was a wave of people flying at me," said Sam Becker, 24, sitting in the emergency room to be treated for leg and hand injuries.

Those still standing scattered, screaming and running for safety. Video caught the car reversing, hitting more people, its windshield splintered from the collision and bumper dragging on the pavement. Medics carried away the injured, bloodied and crying, as a police tank rolled down the street.

Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League posted a photo to Twitter of a man who appears to be Fields brandishing a black shield handed out by the self-proclaimed fascist group Vanguard America.

fields adl

NPR reports that the group released a statement on Twitter late Saturday evening saying Fields was "in no way, a member of Vanguard America." It said the shields were handed out freely to anybody in attendance.

Fields' mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn't know it was a white supremacist rally.

"I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump's not a white supremacist," said Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally.

"He had an African-American friend so ...," she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she'd be surprised if her son's views were that far right.

The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. passes by police officers near the Market Street Parking Garage moments after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. passes by police officers near the Market Street Parking Garage moments after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

In addition to Fields, at least three more men were arrested in connection to the protests.

The Virginia State Police announced late Saturday that Troy Dunigan, a 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was charged with disorderly conduct; Jacob L. Smith, a 21-year-old from Louisa, Virginia, was charged with assault and battery; and James M. O'Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

Just as the city seemed like to be quieting down, black smoke billowed out from the tree tops just outside of town as a Virginia State Police helicopter that had been monitoring the unrest crashed into the woods.

Both troopers onboard, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, one day shy of his 41st birthday, were killed. 

Some of the white nationalists at Saturday's rally cited President Donald Trump's victory after a campaign of racially-charged rhetoric as validation for their beliefs.

"There is a very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics that we've all seen too much of today," said Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer at a press conference. "Our opponents have become our enemies, debate has become intimidation."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities will pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice," Sessions wrote. "When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated."

Four-hundred miles away, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, hinted that the white supremacists might get the opposite of what they'd hoped for.

Mayor Jim Gray announced on Twitter that he would work to remove the confederate monument at his county's courthouse.


Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin, Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, Heidi Brown in Charlottesville, Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, and John Seewer in Maumee, Ohio, contributed to this report.