The man alleged of killing one and injuring many others last year by plowing his car through a group of protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, pled not guilty Thursday to multiple federal hate crime charges.
James Fields Jr., the man suspected, was charged in June with 28 counts of “hate crime acts” for injuring dozens, and one count of “racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity” for driving into the crowd. He also faces a murder charge, and several lesser felony charges, in the state of Virginia.
Heather Heyer, 32, was counterprotesting the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 when a car rammed into a crowd she was in, killing Heyer and injuring 35 others. Fields is suspected of being the driver of the car.
Fields, 21, is from Ohio. Derek Weimer, one of his high school history teachers, told The New York Times that Fields showed a particular interest in the Nazi movement, writing a report “very much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement.”
Before the attack, Fields had been photographed carrying a shield with the insignia of Neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, which participated in the rally. The group has since denied any affiliation with Fields.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Fields also had “engaged in chants promoting or expressing white supremacist and other racist and anti-Semitic views” at the rally, prior to the attack.
Following Fields’ charges, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement the indictments “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.”
Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, told The New York Times that while she anticipated Fields’ plea, it was still “a punch to the gut.” Bro said she will attend every court date of the trial until its conclusion.