James Alex Fields Jr. has first hearing; tensions still high in Charlottesville

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Trump condemns Klan, neo-Nazis, white supremacists

Next hearing for James Alex Fields is set for August 25

Charlottesville, Virginia CNN  — 

Two days have passed since a white supremacist gathering here turned deadly, but tensions remained high Monday reverberating beyond Charlottesville.

Frustrations over the Saturday rally along with reactions to President Donald Trump’s initial remarks, in which he blamed “many sides” drew protests outside Trump Tower in New York City. Anti-racism rallies were held in several cities Monday including in Durham County, where protesters pulled down a monument of a Confederate soldier, cheering as the statue toppled to the ground.

Meanwhile in Charlottesville, the overt hostility that raged over the weekend between white nationalists and anti-fascist protesters continued outside a courthouse. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, the man charged with killing a woman during the rally made his first court appearance.

Outside the courthouse, a couple of “Unite the Right” activists screamed at journalists, saying, “You are all to blame for this.” They were soon confronted by a couple of counterprotesters, who yelled back. A shouting match ensued for several minutes until police broke up the confrontation. No one was injured.

Fields appears before a judge

Inside the courthouse, a judge informed Fields of the charges against him in the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed on Saturday when a car rammed a group of people demonstrating against the “Unite the Right” rally. Fields is accused of being the driver.

Nineteen others were injured. Nine patients remained hospitalized in good condition on Monday, hospital officials said.

Fields is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.

Wearing a black and white jumpsuit, the suspect appeared via video link from jail in front of Judge Robert Downer. Fields, who lives in Maumee, Ohio, was recently making $650 every two weeks working for Securitas, a security company, and noted that he couldn’t afford a lawyer. The company said Monday that it has terminated Fields’ employment.

The judge normally has someone from the public defender’s office available if the defendant has no lawyer. But Downer said someone in that office was related to an individual injured over the weekend, and he would have to go outside the office to make a selection.

The judge named a local defense attorney, Charles Weber, to represent Fields. No bond was set, and Fields remained in custody.

Downer set August 25 as the date for the next hearing; it is possible there will be a bond hearing before then.

Read: GoDaddy booting neo-Nazi website

Fallout from rally

Saturday’s incident took place as hundreds of white nationalists converged on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general and slavery advocate Robert E. Lee.

Two Virginia State Police troopers died when a helicopter crashed in a wooded area near Charlottesville after monitoring the events.

The clashes in Charlottesville sparked political fallout over the weekend, with critics blasting Trump for initially failing to single out white supremacists in his criticism of the violence.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence called out “dangerous fringe groups” and on Monday, Trump named the groups in question and denounced them.

“Racism is evil,” the President said. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Speaking from the White House, Trump expressed his condolences to the families of Heyer and the two troopers, and said they “embody the goodness and decency of our nation.”

“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered. As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, thanked the President in a statement. “Thank you, President Trump, for those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred,” she said.

Opinion: Charlottesville spotlights Trump’s toxic failure to lead

On Sunday, people around the nation marched in support of the anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, with more than 130 rallies from California to Maine.

Sign of remembrance

Confederate monuments on public property became controversial in Southern cities after a white supremacist massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

The discord in Charlottesville stems from a City Council vote to rechristen two parks named for Confederate generals and to remove a bronze statue of one of those generals, Robert E. Lee, from what was known as Lee Park.

A couple of months ago, the park was renamed Emancipation Park. The Lee statue and the park were at the center of violent protests this past weekend, with white nationalists opposing the removal of the statue.

The Heyer placard at Emancipation Park.

Nancy Carpenter, a Charlottesville resident, said her neighbors and friends discussed naming the location for Heyer.

“It was therapeutic to do something to help with the feelings of the weekend,” she said.

Carpenter said such a move could generate change and help residents move forward and tackle the challenge of dealing with the animosities and problems that very much remain in town – even though most of the out-of-towners who descended on the community cleared out.

Carpenter took thick poster board, attached it to a stake and hammered it into the ground. The sign says “Heyer Mem. Park.”

What do we know about Fields?

Fields was a man who possessed “outlandish, very radical beliefs,” and a “fondness” for Adolf Hitler, according to Derek Weimer, who teaches social studies at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky.

“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’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told the Toledo Blade in Ohio, where he lives, that she didn’t know her son was going to Virginia for a white nationalist rally. She thought it had something to do with Trump.

She told the Blade she didn’t discuss politics with her son. She was surprised her son attended an event with white supremacists.

“He had an African-American friend,” she told the Blade.

Another alt-right rally planned for Charlottesville?

Three other men were arrested Saturday. One faces a charge of carrying a concealed handgun and another is charged with disorderly conduct. The third man was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery.

The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash, to be led by US Attorney Rick Mountcastle.

Investigators will be looking into Fields’ alleged motives, and whether there’s enough evidence for a domestic terrorism case.

White nationalist rallygoers and counterprotesters have pointed fingers at each other for the violence. Critics claimed the Charlottesville Police and Virginia State Police stood on the sidelines as skirmishes erupted.

On Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas Jr. said the “Unite the Right” protestors had agreed to enter Emancipation Park through the rear. But “they did not follow” the agreed-upon safety plan and entered the park at different locations, forcing police to alter their plans, Thomas said.

Other groups started gathering in the park and along the street and the crowds became violent, Thomas said.

“We did make attempts to keep the two sides separate. However, we can’t control which side someone enters the park,” Thomas said. “We had agreements and worked out a security plan to bring the groups in in separate entrances. They decided to change the plan and entered the park in different directions.”

Police in Charlottesville may have their hands full again in the future.

Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who helped found the so-called alt-right movement, announced on Monday he is planning to hold another rally in Charlottesville.

Spencer was scheduled to speak at a September 11 “white lives matter” rally at Texas A& M University in College Station, Texas – but the university on Monday canceled the rally.

CNN’s Kevin Conlon, Rosa Flores and Kaylee Hartung reported from Virginia; Joe Sterling, Darran Simon and Monte Plott reported and wrote from Atlanta; Devon M. Sayers, James Masters, Steve Almasy, Sara Sidner, Shawn Nottingham, Nicole Chavez, Caitlin Ostroff, Sheena Jones, Chuck Johnston and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.