In Depth

James Alex Fields: white nationalist rally murder trial begins

The suspect is accused of killing Charlottesville protester Heather Heyer in car attack

A man accused of ramming a group of anti-fascist protestors with a car in a fatal attack goes on trial today in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Prosecutors allege that James Alex Fields, 21, deliberately ploughed his Dodge Challenger into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more people. Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was one of many local residents protesting against the neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups who had descended on the usually quiet university town for the Unite the Right rally on 12 August last year, reports The Guardian.

Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, faces ten charges and a maximum life sentence in Virginia if convicted by the jury at Charlottesville Circuit Court.

Following the rally death, one of his former high-school teachers reportedly said that as a student Fields had idolised Hitler and Nazism, and that his white supremacist views were a “known issue”.

His mother told reporters that she had known her son was travelling to Virginia to attend a rally, but had “thought it had something to do with Trump”, reports ABC News.

In fact, he was photographed carrying a shield emblazoned with the logo of white supremacist group Vanguard America.

The racist right-wing organisation, which helped organise the rally, immediately denied that Fields was a member, and claimed he simply walked up to Vanguard marchers and grabbed a shield - which he displayed upside down, as shown in photos - before launching the attack.

“The driver of the vehicle that hit counterprotesters today was, in no way, a member of Vanguard America,” the group said in a statement on Twitter following the incident. “The shields seen do not denote membership, nor does the white shirt. The shields were freely handed out to anyone in attendance.”

President Donald Trump claimed there was “blame on both sides”, a comment that was widely condemned and further enflamed racial tensions.

As Fields prepares to face the court, “few in Charlottesville believe the trial will do much to heal the community or the country’s racial divide”, says the Associated Press.

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