Mood raw outside court where James Alex Fields Jr. has initial hearing
Tensions remained high here Monday after a judge appointed an attorney for James Alex Fields Jr., the man suspected of killing a woman during a white supremacist rally.
A couple of “Unite the Right” activists screamed at journalists outside, saying, “You are all to blame for this.” They were soon confronted by a couple of counterprotesters, who yelled back.
It was a verbal continuation of the overt hostility on display over the weekend between white nationalists and anti-fascist protesters. A shouting match ensued for several minutes until police broke up the confrontation. No one was injured.
Fields, 20, is accused of driving his car Saturday into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, who was protesting the “Unite the Right” march, and injuring 19 others. Nine patients remained hospitalized in good condition, hospital officials said Monday.
Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
The suspect appeared via video link from jail in front of Judge Robert Downer. Fields wore a black and white jumpsuit and was informed of the charges and his rights.
Fields, who lives in Maumee, Ohio, was recently making $650 every two weeks working for Securitas, a security company, and noted that he couldn’t afford a lawyer. Bond was not set and the judge appointed attorney Charles Weber.
Fields’ employer has terminated him, the company said Monday.
The judge normally has someone from the public defender’s office available if the defendant has no lawyer. But he said someone in the office was related to an individual injured over the weekend, and he would have to go outside the office to make a selection.
Downer set August 25 as the date for the next hearing; it is possible there will be a bond hearing before then.
Saturday’s incident took place as hundreds of white nationalists converged on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general and slavery advocate Robert E. Lee.
Two Virginia State Police troopers died when a helicopter crashed in a wooded area near Charlottesville after monitoring the events.
The clashes in Charlottesville sparked political fallout over the weekend, with critics blasting President Donald Trump for initially failing to single out white supremacists in his criticism of the violence.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence called out “dangerous fringe groups” and on Monday, Trump named the groups in question and denounced them.
“Racism is evil,” the President said. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Speaking from the White House, Trump expressed his condolences to the families of Heyer and the two troopers, and said they “embody the goodness and decency of our nation.”
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered. As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, thanked the President in a statement. “Thank you, President Trump, for those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred,” she said.
On Sunday, people around the nation marched in support of the anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, with more than 130 rallies from California to Maine.
Sign of remembrance
Confederate monuments on public property became controversial in Southern cities after a white supremacist massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The discord in Charlottesville stems from a City Council vote to rechristen two parks named for Confederate generals and to remove a bronze statue of one of those generals, Robert E. Lee, from what was known as Lee Park.
A couple of months ago, the park was renamed Emancipation Park. The Lee statue and the park were at the center of violent protests this past weekend, with white nationalists opposing the removal of the statue.
Nancy Carpenter, a Charlottesville resident, said her neighbors and friends discussed naming the location for Heyer.
“It was therapeutic to do something to help with the feelings of the weekend,” she said.
Carpenter said such a move could generate change and help residents move forward and tackle the challenge of dealing with the animosities and problems that very much remain in town — even though most of the out-of-towners who descended on the community cleared out.
Carpenter took thick poster board, attached it to a stake and hammered it into the ground. The sign says “Heyer Mem. Park.”
What do we know about Fields?
Fields was a man who possessed “outlandish, very radical beliefs,” and a “fondness” for Adolf Hitler, according to Derek Weimer, who teaches social studies at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky.
“It was quite clear he had some really extreme views and maybe a little bit of anger behind them,” Weimer told CNN. “Feeling, what’s the word I’m looking for, oppressed or persecuted. He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
Principal Mike Wilson said he remembered Fields as a quiet and reserved student who graduated in 2015. In August of that year, Fields was inducted into the Army but he left active duty in December 2015. A spokeswoman for the Army said he failed to meet training standards.
“As a result he was never awarded a military occupational skill nor was he assigned to a unit outside of basic training,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson said.
Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told the Toledo Blade in Ohio, where he lives, that she didn’t know her son was going to Virginia for a white nationalist rally. She thought it had something to do with Trump.
She told the Blade she didn’t discuss politics with her son. She was surprised her son attended an event with white supremacists.
“He had an African-American friend,” she told the Blade.
Before Trump’s comments on Monday, the creator of one of the most prolific neo-Nazi websites praised Trump for not specifically blaming neo-Nazis and white supremacists, saying “he loves us.”
Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer wrote that Trump’s comments were “good.”
“He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate on … both sides!” Anglin wrote. “There was virtually no countersignaling of us at all. He loves us all.”
Anglin did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Another alt-right rally planned for Charlottesville?
Three other men were arrested Saturday. One faces a charge of carrying a concealed handgun and another is charged with disorderly conduct. The third man was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery.
The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash, to be led by US Attorney Rick Mountcastle.
Investigators will be looking into Fields’ alleged motives, and whether there’s enough evidence for a domestic terrorism case.
White nationalist rallygoers and counterprotesters have pointed fingers at each other for the violence. Critics claimed the Charlottesville Police and Virginia State Police stood on the sidelines as skirmishes erupted.
On Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas Jr. said the “Unite the Right” protestors had agreed to enter Emancipation Park through the rear. But “they did not follow” the agreed-upon safety plan and entered the park at different locations, forcing police to alter their plans, Thomas said.
Other groups started gathering in the park and along the street and the crowds became violent, Thomas said.
“We did make attempts to keep the two sides separate. However, we can’t control which side someone enters the park,” Thomas said. “We had agreements and worked out a security plan to bring the groups in in separate entrances. They decided to change the plan and entered the park in different directions.”
Police in Charlottesville may have their hands full again in the future.
Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who helped found the so-called alt-right movement, announced on Monday he is planning to hold another rally in Charlottesville, and one on September 11at Texas A& M University in College Station, Texas.