The highly publicized "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday turned deadly after a driver — identified as James Alex Fields Jr. — drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, an act officials suspect was intentional. AP reported Saturday afternoon that a hospital official said that one person had died and 19 are injured as a result of the tragic incident.
Video of the horrific incident shows a Dodge Charger appearing to accelerate into a crowd of counter-protesters. One witness, Brennan Gilmore, posted a video on Twitter, describing the victims as "anti-racist protesters":
"It was very clearly intentional," Gilmore told NBC News. "From the far end of the street it accelerated, slowed down right before the crowd and then slammed on the gas through the crowd sending bodies flying. And then it reversed back into the street dragging bodies and clothes."
Another witness told reporters that the Challenger was going around 40 MPH and agreed that the act was intentional:
"A counter protester had allegedly thrown a rock at the car, causing the driver to swivel around and ram into people and cars in its way before driving off with someone's shoe attached to its bumper," the Daily Mail reports.
According to officials, one person, a 32-year-old woman, is dead and 19 injured, and a total of three vehicles were involved. The Challenger (pictured below) was finally stopped by police several blocks away.
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said the driver, identified late Saturday as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, was quickly arrested. Fields is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder and malicious wounding, among other charges. Both the FBI and the Department of Justice have opened up civil rights investigations into Fields' actions.
Information about Fields is just beginning to surface, but his social media accounts indicate that he embraced ethnonationalist and white supremacist ideology, some of his posts including Nazi imagery. One photograph of Fields shows him standing with Vanguard America, a group which describes itself online as "The Face of American Fascism" and engaged in the "Struggle for Race and Nation"; the group has since denied that he is a member.
Below is the mugshot of Fields (via the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail), followed by the Challenger he drove into the crowd of protesters:
The deadly act was one of many eruptions of violence that occurred throughout the day in the city, with groups of white nationalist rallyers and "anti-fascist" counter-protesters clashing repeatedly, resulting in at least 14 injuries from "individual engagements," according to authorities.
Images and footage show some of the far-right mobs were wearing militia-style uniforms — including shields, helmets, and blunt weapons — and chanting "Blood and Soil," as they converged on the event in Emancipation Park, reports the Daily Mail, while the counter-protesters were heard chanting, "We're here, we're gay, we fight the KKK!" As has been the case in other events across the country in recent months, militant Antifa ("anti-fascist") members also came ready to fight.
State police moved in quickly to attempt to disperse crowds, including through the use of tear gas, but the fighting continued. Multiple arrests were made, though few details have been provided by authorities. In total 35 people were treated because of injuries throughout the day, none of those from encounters with police.
Tragically, two Virginia State Police officials also lost their lives Saturday, when a police helicopter brought in to aid law enforcement crashed in the early evening just southwest of the city, though police say no foul play is suspected.
In response to the outbreak of violence, the governor of Virginia has declared a state of emergency.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both responded to the violence. "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!" tweeted Trump.
After releasing a statement soon after the riots condemning violence and "hate and intolerance," Sessions issued another statement late Saturday announcing that both the Department of Justice and the FBI have launched civil rights investigations into Fields' actions:
“When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated,” Sessions said in a press statement.
“I have talked with FBI Director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene, and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia.
“The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day. U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice,” Sessions’ statement read, concluding, “Justice will prevail.”
Soon after the attack, First Lady Melania Trump took to Twitter in response, tweeting, "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence."
More images and footage of the chaotic situation below:
Footage taken Friday night of the rallyers marching toward the University of Virginia campus chanting, "One people, one nation, end immigration" and "blood and soil":
This story has been updated as more details have emerged.