Driver Accused of Driving Into Charlottesville Crowd Charged With Hate Crimes

The driver who is accused of driving into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 has been charged with federal hate crimes, CBS News reports.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, plowed into a crowd of people demonstrating against the Unite the Right rally, injuring dozens and killing one woman, Heather Heyer.

Fields was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Virginia and charged with one count of a hate crime resulting in Heyer's death and 28 other hate crimes involving an attempt to kill others who were injured. He was also charged with one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity.

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

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

Fields attacked the crowd after authorities forced those assembled to disband, as the rally had led to fighting between its attendees and counterdemonstrators. The indictment said that Fields "allegedly accelerated his car into a racially and ethnically diverse crowd of people who had been protesting racism and discrimination."

Hours before the attack, Fields was photographed with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part in the rally. The group denied any association with Fields.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said that the death penalty review is underway, with the Attorney General having the final say on the matter.

"We're hopeful that in indicting Mr. Fields today we're sending a strong message that racially motivated hate crimes and violent acts will not be tolerated in this district," Cullen said, via NBC 29. "I think this community from a law enforcement perspective is well prepared to deal with that."

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said that she is unsure whether she wants Fields to receive the death penalty and is grateful that she is not the one making that decision.

Bro added that she is glad the attack was classified as a hate crime and hopes that will help the other victims move past the tragedy.

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“I think a lot of them really need some justice and some vindication for what they were doing, and to acknowledge that a hate crime occurred acknowledges their pain, acknowledges what they’ve suffered,” she said.

Photo Credit: Getty / Win McNamee