Two Virginia state troopers and a woman died on Saturday in the fallout of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that was canceled before it even started because of the violence it was provoking.
Charlottesville police identified Heather Heyer, a local, as the 32-year-old who died at the hospital after a Dodge Challenger rammed into a crowd of anti-racist protesters. Nineteen others were injured.
State police charged the alleged driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, Jr., with second-degree murder and the Department of Justice is also investigating whether he violated any civil rights, which could lead to federal hate crime charges.
Fields is a registered Republican from Ohio and images on Twitter appeared to show him with the far-right Vanguard America group, which later denied Fields was a member. His mother Samantha Bloom told the Associated Press that she knew her son was driving to the rally, but she had not known it was a white supremacist demonstration.
“I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist,” Bloom told the AP.
Then she trailed off after she said, “He had an African American friend, so…”
Two other people died in connection to the rally. State police Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40, were assisting with crowd control in a helicopter that crashed and burned in a wooded area, according to CNN. Both men died on the scene.
Commotion began on Friday night after hundreds of white nationalists marched with torches on the University of Virginia’s campus, celebrating a federal court’s injunction that forced the city to allow their rally.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had organized the “Unite the Right” rally for Saturday in the park at noon to protest the city’s decision to remove an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The city initially announced that the rally had to move to another park, but Kessler, backed by the ACLU, accused it of violating free speech. U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad granted a preliminary injunction, allowing it to proceed in Emancipation Park.
But as Saturday came, hundreds of neo-Nazis, alt-right activists, pro-Confederacy groups, people who oppose them and police started clashing before the rally was even scheduled. It was one of the biggest gatherings of its kind since President Donald Trump has come into office.
The county and state declared a local state of emergency and dispersed everyone from the park as the National Guard stood by. About two hours later and six blocks away, a driver rammed a gray car into the crowd, flinging people in the air and smashing the back end of one car, which did the same to another.
Then, the driver sped in reverse, fleeing the scene. That night, state police announced they had arrested Fields, an Ohio resident. They charged him with second-degree murder as well as three counts of malicious wounding and a hit-and-run.
State police also announced Saturday night that they arrested three others, one for carrying a concealed gun.
— VA State Police (@VSPPIO) August 13, 2017
Gov. Terry McAuliffe told white supremacists at a news conference in the evening to go home.
“You pretend you are patriots, but you are anything but patriots,” McAuliffe said. “Take your hatred and take your bigotry. There is no place. “
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has come under scrutiny for his statement on events in Charlottesville during a bill-signing ceremony on Saturday. Trump did not explicitly name white nationalism or neo-Nazis, instead blaming “many sides” for the violence.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.
If ISIS rammed a car into a crowd this would be labeled quickly & logically. Charlottesville – call it what it is, domestic terrorism.
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) August 13, 2017
His remarks were celebrated by some white supremacists online. Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote that Trump had “outright refused to disavow” the demonstration.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a tweet, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”