The Justice Department’s hate crime investigation of Saturday’s incident in Charlottesville, Va. is not limited just to James Alex Fields Jr., the 20-year-old man charged with second-degree murder after allegedly running over a woman demonstrating against white supremacists.
A Department of Justice official familiar with the hate crime investigation says that the agency is looking into whether others individuals were involved in the attack, which occurred around mid-day Saturday after local police broke up a white supremacist rally being held near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Video recordings showed a 2010 Dodge Challenger registered to Fields plowing into a crowd of anti-fascist counter-protesters in downtown Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed in what police say was a deliberate attack. As many as 19 other people were injured.
There has been no indication yet that Fields coordinated the attack with someone else.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that the Justice Department and FBI would be investigating the incident as domestic terrorism and as a hate crime.
The investigation will be conducted in Charlottesville as well as Maumee, Ohio, where Fields is from.
The Justice Department official said that Fields’ motive is not entirely clear, though the agency has enough evidence to warrant suspicion that he engaged in domestic terrorism. Evidence suggests that Fields intended both to hurt people and send a message to counter-protesters, the official said.
People who know Fields have said that he has embraced white supremacist ideology for years. One of Fields’ teachers told WCPO News in Cincinnati that he was obsessed with Adolf Hitler and Nazis. (RELATED: Ex-Teacher: Charlottesville Suspect Had Nazi Obsession, Mental Health Problems)
Thousands of white supremacists, Alt-Right supporters, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klam attended Saturday’s rally. Nazi flags and armbands were prominent at the gathering, which was dubbed “Unite the Right.”
Fields also attempted to join the Army in Aug. 2015, just after high school but was released several months later for failing to meet training standards.
“The Army can confirm that James Alex Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015. He was, however, released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015. As a result he was never awarded a military occupational skill nor was he assigned to a unit outside of basic training,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, an Army spokesperson, told TheDC.
Fields’ teacher said that he did not proceed further because of mental health issues.