Kentucky-raised driver in Charlottesville attack faces federal hate crime charges

James Alex Fields, Jr.
James Alex Fields, Jr. AFP/Getty Images

Federal hate crime charges were filed Wednesday against a Kentucky-raised man accused of plowing a car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring dozens more.

The Department of Justice announced that an indictment returned Wednesday charges 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, with 30 crimes, including one count of a hate crime resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, and 28 other hate crimes involving an attempt to kill other people who were injured.

Fields grew up in Florence, in northern Kentucky.

"Last summer's violence in Charlottesville cut short a promising young life and shocked the nation," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "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."

Authorities have said that Fields drove his speeding car into a group of people demonstrating against the "Unite the Right" rally that drew hundreds of white nationalists to the college town, where officials planned to remove a Confederate monument.

The car Fields used in the attack was purchased in June 2015 from Kelly Toyota in Florence, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Florence Mayor Diane Whalen said last year the city should not be defined by his actions.

Florence, Ky. Mayor Diane Whalen says her city should not be defined by former resident James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist who allegedly killed protester Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville, Va.

The attack came after the rally had descended into chaos — with violent brawling between attendees and counterdemonstrators — and authorities had forced the crowd to disband. Fields had been photographed hours beforehand with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part, although the group denied any association with him.

Fields already faces state charges, including first-degree murder. He has been in custody since the rally.

Growing up, Fields had some "radical ideas on race," one of his high school teachers at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union said.

“He was very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler. He also had a huge interest in military history, especially with German military history and World War II. But, he was pretty infatuated with that stuff,” history teacher Derek Weimer told WCPO-TV.

He entered the Army in 2015 and less than four months later, his period of active duty concluded, according to the New York Times. It's not clear why he left the military.

A car is seen plowing into a crowd of counter-protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. The crash left at least one person dead and several injured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.