AG Sessions: Actions "from racial bigotry and hatred ... cannot be tolerated"
Suspect's mom says he told her last week he was going to a rally
One person was killed and 19 were hurt when a speeding car slammed into a throng of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, where a “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalist and other right-wing groups had been scheduled to take place, the city tweeted on its verified account.
A 32-year-old woman was killed while walking across the street, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said. Police were still in the process of notifying her family.
Two Virginia State Patrol troopers were killed in a helicopter crash while “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” the agency said in a news release. The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 on Sunday, died in the crash.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had a pointed message for the right-wing groups that flocked to Charlottesville on Saturday: “Go home. … You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”
In addition to the one death and 19 injuries in the car-ramming incident, the city said there were at least 15 other injuries associated with the scheduled rally.
Federal authorities said a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash was opened hours after it happened.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle is leading the investigation and has the full support of the Deparment of Justice.
“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated,” Sessions said in a statement. “Justice will prevail.”
“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and as this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time,” said a statement from the Richmond, Virginia FBI field office.
“I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will – go home,” Mayor Mike Signer wrote on Twitter.
Virginia’s governor had earlier declared an emergency, and police worked to disperse hundreds of protesters in the college town after clashes broke out ahead of the rally’s scheduled noon ET start.
Fistfights and screaming matches erupted Saturday, barely 12 hours after a scuffle Friday night at the nearby University of Virginia between torch-bearing demonstrators and counterprotesters.
Saturday’s rally was the latest event drawing white nationalists and right-wing activists from across the country to this Democratic-voting town – a development precipitated by the city’s decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past.
Here are the latest developments:
• The suspect being held in a Virginia jail in connection with a deadly crash near a scheduled rally of white nationalists has been identified as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, according to Superintendent Martin Kumer with the Albermarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail. Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
• Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told the Toledo Blade, a CNN affiliate, that he told her last week he was going to an “alt-right” rally, but she didn’t get involved in his political views. “I told him to be careful … if they are going to rally, to make sure he is doing it peacefully,” she told the newspaper. CNN’s attempt to reach Bloom were unsuccessful.
• Angela Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center, said there were five patients from the crash in critical condition, four in serious condition, six in fair condition and four in good condition.
• Video of the incident shows a gray Dodge Challenger driving quickly down a narrow side street lined with walking protesters. The sports car rams into the back of a silver convertible, which hits the van in front of it. Soon the Dodge driver slams the car in reverse, going back up the street at a high rate of speed, dragging its front bumper. Several people chase the car. As the sports car retreats, a red and white athletic shoe falls off the bumper.
Another video shows at least one person being thrown over the rear of the car onto the roof of the silver convertible then sliding down onto the hood.
• Witness Chris Mahony said he and a friend, who shot one of the videos, were walking down the street when he saw the gray car on the other side of the street.
“It just sat there, looking down the road,” he said. “I thought that’s a bit strange. There didn’t seem to be any other cars stopping him from going. And then a couple moments we heard a car going incredibly fast down the road and then it plowed into the crowd.”
• Three other people were arrested Saturday, Virginia State Police said. Two of the men were from out of state. One of the out-of-state men faces a charge of carrying a concealed handgun and the other is charged disorderly conduct. A Virginia man was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery.
• President Donald Trump told reporters: “We are closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country – not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
• Former President Barack Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, wrote on Twitter: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
• Sen. Ted Cruz called on the US Justice Department “to immediately investigate and prosecute today’s grotesque act of domestic terrorism.” In a posting on Facebook, Cruz said it was “tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great nation with bloodshed.” Cruz called the white supremacists “repulsive and evil.”
• Police began to break up crowds shortly before noon, after city officials declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly.”
• Some protesters fired pepper spray at other demonstrators, state police said.
• Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency “to aid state response to violence,” according to a post on his Twitter account.
Police in riot gear stood shoulder to shoulder behind shields early Saturday afternoon, at times advancing toward crowds, CNN video shows.
By 1 p.m. ET, police had cleared the park where the rally was to be held.
It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the fights, though tensions and rhetoric were running hot. At one point, a few dozen white men wearing helmets and holding makeshift shields chanted, “Blood and soil!” Later, another group chanted slogans such as, “Nazi scum off our streets!”
People punched and kicked each other during various scuffles, which often were broken up from within crowds, without police intervention, CNN video shows.
Police presence was heavy, with more than 1,000 officers expected to be deployed, city officials said. Police anticipated the rally would attract as many as 2,000 to 6,000 people, and the Southern Poverty Law Center said it could be the “largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
White nationalists wield torches
Charlottesville, once home to Thomas Jefferson, is known as a progressive city of about 47,000 people. During last year’s presidential election, 80% of its voters chose Hillary Clinton.
But far-right activists and Ku Klux Klan members have come here in recent months, outraged by the city’s intention to remove traces of its links to the Confederacy – including plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The effort developed amid a push by communities across the South to remove Confederate iconography from public property since the 2015 rampage killings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, by a self-described white supremacist.
Ahead of Saturday’s planned rally, tensions roiled Friday night as white nationalists – some holding what appeared to be backyard tiki-style torches – marched onto the University of Virginia’s campus.
Chanting, “Blood and soil” and “You will not replace us,” the group rallied around a statue of Thomas Jefferson before they clashed with counterprotesters, CNN affiliate WWBT reported. The group left the university’s grounds when police arrived and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
City and UVA officials condemned Friday’s march.
“In my 47 years of association with @UVA, this was the most nauseating thing I’ve ever seen. We need an exorcism on the Lawn,” Larry Sabato, director of the university’s Center for Politics, tweeted.
Signer, the Charlottesville mayor, released a statement referring to Friday’s rally as a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights.”
“Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus,” he added.
Friday’s march took place shortly after a federal judge granted a temporary injunction allowing right-wing activists to hold Saturday’s rally.
City officials had tried to “modify” the rally’s permit to move the demonstration from the park with the Lee statue more than a mile away to McIntire Park, citing safety concerns.
’We’re going to start standing up for our history’
In February, the city council voted to remove the Lee statue, but that is on hold pending litigation. The council also voted to rename two city parks that had been named for Confederate generals; one of those, Emancipation Park, was due to be the site of Saturday’s rally.
Jason Kessler, who organized Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, said he doesn’t consider himself to be a white nationalist. But, he said, “we’re going to start standing up for our history.”
“The statue itself is symbolic of a lot of larger issues. The primary three issues are preserving history against this censorship and revisionism – this political correctness,” he told CNN Friday.
“The second issue is being allowed to advocate for your interests as a white person, just like other groups are allowed to advocate for their interests politically. And finally, this is about free speech. We are simply trying to express ourselves and do a demonstration, and the local government has tried to shut us down.”
CNN’s Kaylee Hartung and Devon M. Sayers reported from Charlottesville. CNN’s Jason Hanna and Steve Almasy wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Nicole Chavez, Paul Murphy, Deanna Hackney, Madison Park, Joe Sutton, Chris Boyette, Chandrika Narayan and Michelle Krupa contributed to this report.