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Man Accused Of Killing Woman With Car In Charlottesville Protest To Appear In Court

  • RFE/RL

A man accused of driving his car into a crowd of protesters who were demonstrating against far-right activists in the U.S. state of Virginia is due to appear in court on August 14.

James Alex Fields, 20, is being held on a charge of second-degree murder after one person was killed and 19 injured in what President Donald Trump's national security adviser said was an attack that "meets the definition of terrorism."

U.S. federal investigators said they have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances that led James Alex Fields, 20, to plow his car into a crowd on a street in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who acquaintances described as a passionate advocate for social justice, was killed.

Fields also faces three counts of malicious wounding and one count related to leaving the scene of an accident. He was pictured at the rally earlier in the day with a white-supremacist group.

"Any time that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism," H.R. McMaster said on ABC's This Week in describing the events that occurred in Charlottesville, a town in Virginia about 160 kilometers southwest of Washington, D.C.

Video footage of the incident shows a car being driven at high speed, striking and injuring many people, before it slams into the back of two other cars and then speeds away in reverse.

Police officials said the deaths of two Virginia state troopers in a helicopter crash during the clashes were also connected to the protests. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said the pilot and a passenger were killed in the helicopter crash.

Officials at the University of Virginia Medical Center said that of the 19 injured it treated after the incident, 10 were in good condition and nine had been discharged.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "the violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice."

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had declared a state of emergency and troops from the National Guard were deployed to bolster security after clashes broke out between white supremacists and counterprotesters. Many counterprotestors gathered in the town the day after the violence in a show of unity against the white supremacists, also known as white nationalists.

"To the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who came to our beautiful state yesterday, there is no place for you here in Charlottesville and there is no place for you in the United States of America," McAuliffe said amid a burst of applause as he addressed the predominately African-American congregation at the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.

Officials in Charlottesville had approved the right-wing rally for August 12, a protest against the city’s decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate military leader during the American Civil War.

But permission to hold the rally was withdrawn after street clashes on the morning of August 12.

The man who organized the right-wing rally attempted to hold a news conference on August 14, but he was booed by several hundred people who eventually forced him away from a lectern.

Jason Kessler, a blogger based in Charlottesville, was preparing to speak in front of reporters and news cameras when people chanted and made noises with drums and other instruments.

A video shows a man pushing Kessler, who asked police officers for help. The officers eventually escorted him away.

Trump sent a Twitter message urging people to unite and expressing condolences for the victims of the violence.

But many prominent Democrats, civil-rights activists, and some Republicans criticized him for not singling out and denouncing some of the white supremacy groups that were present at the protest, including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members.

Amid heavy criticism, the White House issued an e-mail to reporters in the president’s traveling press pool on August 13 clarifying what Trump meant.

"The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday (August 12) that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred. Of course, that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together," the White House statement, attributed to an unnamed spokesman, said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, CNN, and Reuters
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