Suspect in Charlottesville car attack denied bail in court appearance

Justice Department opens civil rights investigation
A vigil at the site where on Saturday a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.
A vigil at the site where on Saturday a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The man suspected of ramming his car into a crowd here, an attack that authorities said left one person dead and 19 more injured, was denied bail during his first court appearance in a downtown courtroom Monday.

“You are charged with a number of felonies, including murder and malicious wounding,” Judge Robert Downer told the man, James Alex Fields, Jr., who was not in the courtroom but was seen on a small video screen sitting with his shoulders slumped in front of a dark cinder block wall and a filing cabinet.

RELATED: Trump condemns violence in Charlottesville, calls racism ‘evil’
RELATED: Capital Region responds to violence in Charlottesville

A statement by city officials said Fields, 20, was the driver of the Dodge Challenger that Saturday drove into a group of counterprotesters, after a rally of white nationalists in a city park spun out of control, resulting in melees in the streets. On Monday, outside the building, a man identified as a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center and another apparent supporter of the cause stood amid a knot of television cameras and vowed to return to the city.

Downer said he would not grant bond to Fields, at least until he met with a court-appointed lawyer, Charles Weber. Fields answered Downer’s questions simply, saying, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” Fields told the judge he worked at Securitas, a national firm that employs more than 88,000 security officers. A financial disclosure form shown to the court said he made $650 every two weeks.

“Do you have any ties at all to this community?” Downer asked.

“No, sir,” Fields said.

Over the weekend, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the attack, and Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it met the legal definition of an act of domestic terrorism.

Fields, who officials said was from Ohio, expressed radical views in the past, according to acquaintances who recalled him yelling about Hitler or racial slurs. The U.S. Army said that, in 2015, he participated in basic training but failed to meet the standards required for another assignment. This past weekend, according to The Toledo Blade, he told his mother he was planning to attend a rally in Virginia.

On Saturday, Fields was photographed standing with a group of demonstrators who appeared to be associated with Vanguard America, a group with an online manifesto that envisions a nation “exclusively for the white American peoples.” The group has since distanced itself from Fields.

That morning, the streets of this college town erupted in violent clashes after white nationalist groups arrived to hold a noontime rally — one of a series in recent months that groups affiliated with far-right ideologies have held since the City Council voted earlier this year to take down its statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.

Police officers with riot gear and tear gas dispersed the crowds shortly before the rally’s scheduled start, leaving demonstrators angry and Charlottesville reeling. It turned even more violent when the car, which authorities said was driven by Fields, sped into other cars amid a group of counterprotesters, sending people flying and killing Heather D. Heyer, 32. Fields left the scene, in reverse, but was later arrested.

Also Saturday, the crash of a State Police helicopter that had been monitoring the protests left two troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, dead.

On Sunday, residents left bouquets at a makeshift memorial for Heyer. But even as downtown returned to business, tensions flared. Jason Kessler, the organizer of the white nationalist rally, was drowned out at his own news conference by demonstrators chanting “shame, shame.” An anti-racism rally that continued nearby occasionally devolved into shouting matches between supporters and opponents.

Those tensions spilled into Monday, as Matthew Heimbach, an Indiana man who is active in white nationalist groups, appeared outside of the complex where Fields made his video appearance. In front of cameras, Heimbach blamed Saturday’s violence on the police and counterprotesters. As he spoke, bystanders chanted, “Nazis, go home!”

“We will be back in Charlottesville,” Heimbach said. “We will stand here. We will stand everywhere.”

Categories: News

Leave a Reply