James Alex Fields Jr. made national headlines when he was arrested last August for plowing his vehicle into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The unprecedented attack injured several demonstrators and was fatal for 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The suspect immediately fled the area after hitting several people, but authorities quickly caught up to him. Fields Jr. is being charged with a federal hate crime, so he has remained in police custody since the incident. If convicted of the hate crime, then Fields could be facing the death penalty. The suspect recently made his first appearance in court after being official charged with the hate crime last week. During his court date at the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Fields Jr. pleaded not guilty to the hate crime. The suspect is also facing additional charges including murder.
Prosecutors are concerned the suspect’s actions are indicative of a hate crime because of the group of protestors he targeted last August. According to reports, two separate protests were occurring during the event. The “Unite the Right” rally consisted of many individuals protesting the state’s decision to remove the famous statue of Civil War hero Robert E. Lee. A counter protest was simultaneously occurring to protest against white nationalism, so the groups inevitably clashed. Fields Jr. reportedly specifically targeted a group of racially diverse individuals who were members of the counter protest. Additionally, the suspect had been seen earlier participating in the “Unite the Right” Rally. His friends knew him by the alias ‘Adolf Hitler’, and he had posted about the Holocaust on social media prior to the event. He reportedly sent messages to a friend explaining that members protesting the “Unite the Right” rally needed to be careful.
Fields Jr. is expected to stand trial on his federal charges later on in the year.