Man charged with hate crimes in Charlottesville rally death

The man charged with killing a counter-protester during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year has also been charged by federal authorities with hate crimes, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The rally gained international attention when James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a group of people protesting the Unite the Right rally. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and dozens were injured.

The violence was sparked after hundreds of people, some carrying white nationalist symbols and Confederate flags descended on Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a statue honouring a Confederate commander.

A clash between the protesters and counter-protesters forced Charlottesville authorities to declare a curfew.

A makeshift memorial of flowers and a photo of victim, Heather Heyer, was created after her death. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

“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,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

At the time, U.S. President Donald Trump was condemned by both Democratic and Republican politicians after he said blame for the violence rested on “many sides.”

Promoted racist ideologies

According to the indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Fields routinely promoted racist ideologies on his social media accounts, including expressing support for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

Prior to heading out for the rally, it says, a family member texted and told him to be careful.

“We’re not the ones who need to be careful,” he responded, along with an image of Adolf Hitler.

The violence in Charlottesville, Va. is leading many to wonder; how did it come to this? And given that the U.S. president himself seems reluctant to call out hate groups, where will it end? 9:07

He is charged with wilfully causing bodily harm to Heyer, which resulted in her death, “because of the actual and perceived race, colour, religion, and national origin of individuals in a crowd.”

He also faces multiple counts of committing a hate crime with an attempt to kill, and charges of bias-motivated interference with federally protected activity resulting in death.

The hate crimes case is eligible for the death penalty, though whether capital punishment will be pursued is still unknown.

In addition, the grand jury also found that he intentionally killed Heyer and that he knew his actions would create the grave risk of death.

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