James Alex Fields went on trial last week for the first-degree murder of Heather Heyer, who was killed when Fields drove a car into an anti-far-right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. Fields is charged with hit and run, first-degree murder, multiple counts of federal hate crimes for injuring 28 others, and other crimes. FBI director Christopher A. Wray called the attack an act of "domestic terrorism."
Normally, Heyer and Fields would not even know each other and would not have crossed paths, if not for her fateful decision to attend the anti-racist and anti-white-nationalist counter-demonstration. Fields attended the event in support of the alt-right.
A large Unite the Right rally was taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia from August 11 to 12, 2017. The rally brought together KKK members, neo-nazis, Holocaust denial proponents and others on the far-right. The focal point of the march was at Emancipation Park where a statue of Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee was slated to be removed.
As described by witnesses:
"[A]t around 1:45 p.m. on August 12, 2017, the 2010 Dodge Challenger impacted a crowd of counter-protesters while driving at a high speed. It audibly rammed pedestrians and struck the white sedan. The impact reportedly '[shoved] tons of metal into the crowd' and sent people 'flying through the air' and over another car near the intersection with Water Street East. The struck vehicle also hit the maroon minivan ahead, 'sending that vehicle into more pedestrians'. A few seconds after the initial impact, Fields drove in reverse -- hitting more people -- with his car's front bumper 'scraping the road'. Pedestrians who had avoided the attack chased Fields along Fourth Street."
Heyer was described by family and friends as a passionate voice for civil rights. Her friends first cautioned her about attending the counter-demonstration against Unite the Right, but she felt compelled to go anyway.
The act was first thought to be an accident by those watching the clip online, but hearing the voices from the people who were there told a different story.
In the aftermath of the event, the public was enraged when U.S. President Trump described the violence as an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides."
Those off-the-cuff comments about violence on both sides rattled many people as footage of the alt-right demonstrators marching through the streets of Charlottesville showed them holding tiki torches and clashing with the police and counter-demonstrators in brief skirmishes.
On August 16, 2017, Trump publicly tweeted about Heyer, his first time acknowledging that a life was lost. He tweeted: "Memorial service today for beautiful and incredible Heather Heyer, a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all!"
At Fields' trial, the prosecution contends that his actions were premeditated with the intention to harm the counter-protesters. Before the demonstrations took place, Fields posted a meme of a group of people being struck by a car from behind. He also spread a similar meme from private messages.
During their opening statements, prosecutors stated they would call eyewitnesses who could testify that Fields intentionally drove his car into the crowd of protesters while the defence will argue that he feared for his life and just wanted to escape the scene.
Krystalline Kraus is an intrepid journalist and veteran reporter for rabble.ca since its 2001 beginnings.
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