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The 20-year-old man accused of driving a car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally Saturday, James Alex Fields Jr., was denied bail in court Monday morning.
Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. said at a Monday morning hearing that he would appoint a lawyer for Fields, who faces charges of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of an accident, after the deadly car attack in Charlottesville, Va. Fields did not enter a plea in his video appearance at a General District Court in Charlottesville.
As crowds began dispersing in the aftermath of a “Unite the Right” rally, Fields allegedly drove a gray Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters. The Dodge rear-ended a sedan, which crashed into a minivan in front of it. A 32-year-old woman, Heather D. Heyer, died and at least 19 others were injured, according to authorities. The Dodge sped from the scene, but Charlottesville police later found and stopped the vehicle, and took Fields, who lives in Maumee, Ohio, into custody.
The incident marked the highest point of tension during Saturday’s rally, which saw violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters. The rally had been planned in protest of the removal of a Confederate monument from a public park and attracted hundreds of white supremacists. President Trump, who condemned “many sides” for the violence, had been criticized for his failure to explicitly denounce white supremacists until Monday.
Fields’ court-appointed attorney, Charles Weber, did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News. The judge said that Fields was not assigned a public defender because a relative of an employee in the public defender’s office was involved in Saturday’s incident.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Fields caught the attention of his high school teachers for his fascination with Nazi Germany. Social studies teacher Derek Weimer, who taught Fields in three classes at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union, Ky., told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Fields had written an assignment that “was much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement” and so alarming that another teacher filed a report on it.
“It was quite clear he had some really extreme views and maybe a little bit of anger behind them,” Weimer told CNN. “Feeling, what’s the word I’m looking for, oppressed or persecuted. He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
Fields reported for basic military training in August 2015, but was released from active duty in December 2015 after he failed to meet training standards, a U.S. Army spokesperson told Yahoo News. As a result of his failure to meet training standards, Fields “was never awarded a military occupational skill nor was he assigned to a unit outside of basic training.”
About a year ago, Fields moved to Ohio from Kentucky with his mother, Samantha Bloom, who relocated for her job, according to the Toledo Blade. He told Bloom that he planned to attend a rally in Virginia but described it as an “alt-right” rally, according to the Toledo Blade.
“I thought [the rally] had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a supremacist,” Bloom told the Toledo Blade. “[Fields] had an African-American friend, so …”
“I try to stay out of his political views. I don’t get too involved,” said Bloom, who appeared visibly upset in a Toledo Blade video when she learned of Fields’ alleged actions and incarceration. Fields lives on his own and had texted his mother Friday to tell her he had dropped off his cat at her apartment so he could attend the rally.
Bloom, a single mother who is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, raised Fields on her own after a drunk driver killed his father, an uncle told the Washington Post.
Records from 911 calls reveal that Bloom had called police at least twice to accuse her then-teenage son of assaulting her and wielding a knife. Records from the Florence Police Department in Kentucky show that Bloom told police in 2011 that Fields, a young teenager at the time, had stood behind her wielding a 12-inch knife. During another 2010 incident, Bloom said that Fields had hit her head and locked her in the bathroom.
Bloom also told police Fields was taking medication to treat temper issues.
The uncle, who spoke with the Post on the condition of anonymity, last heard from an 18-year-old Fields when he asked for the money left to him by his father, which was kept in a trust by his uncle.
The uncle described Fields to the Post as “not really friendly, more subdued.” Fields’ aunt, Pam Fields, told the New York Times that she remembered him as a “very quiet little boy.”
On Saturday, a photographer captured a picture of a man who appears to be Fields marching with Vanguard America, a group that describes itself on Twitter as “the face of American fascism.” The group denied any affiliation with Fields, stating he is, “in no way, a member of Vanguard America.”
— Nicole Hensley (@nkhensley) August 13, 2017
“All our members had been safely evacuated by the time of the incident,” Vanguard America wrote. “The shields seen do not denote membership, nor does the white shirt. The shields were freely handed out to anyone in attendance. All our members are safe an [sic] accounted for, with no arrests or charges.”
U.S. officials from the Justice Department and FBI have launched a civil rights investigation into the vehicular incident. Fields’ next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 25.
Update [8/14/17 at 3:28 p.m.]: This story has been updated to include information from records of 911 calls about Fields allegedly beating his mother.
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