Crash suspect idolized Hitler, ex-teacher says
Charlottesville, Va. — The young man accused of plowing a car into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out by school officials in the 9th grade for his “deeply held, radical” convictions on race, a former high school teacher said Sunday.
James Alex Fields Jr. also confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger and had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication, Derek Weimer said in an interview with the Associated Press.
In high school, Fields was an “average” student, but with a keen interest in military history, Hitler, and Nazi Germany, said Weimer, who said he was Fields’ social studies teacher at Randall K. Cooper high school in Union, Kentucky, in Fields’ junior and senior years.
“Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy toward Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy,” Weimer said. “It would start to creep out.”
Police charged Fields with second-degree murder and other counts for allegedly driving his silver Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, killing a 32-year-old woman and wounding at least 19 others. A Virginia State Police helicopter deployed in a large-scale police response to the violence then crashed into the woods outside of town. Both troopers on board died.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities would pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash. The violence and deaths in Charlottesville “strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions wrote.
Fields, 20, had been photographed hours earlier carrying the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that organized the “take America back” campaign in protest of the removal of a Confederate statue. The group on Sunday denied any association with the suspect, even as a separate hate group that organized Saturday’s rally pledged on social media to organize future events that would be “bigger than Charlottesville.”
The mayor of Charlottesville, political leaders of all political stripes, and activists and community organizers around the country planned rallies, vigils and education campaigns to combat the hate groups.
Weimer said Fields left school for a while, and when he came back he was quieter about politics until his senior year, when politicians started to declare their candidacy for the 2016 presidential race. Weimer said Fields was a Trump supporter because of what he believed to be Trump’s views on race.
As a senior, Fields wanted to join the army, and Weimer, a former officer in the Ohio National Guard, guided him through the process of applying, he said, believing the military would expose Fields to people of different races and backgrounds and help him dispel his white supremacist views. But he was ultimately turned down, which was a big blow, Weimer said.
“The Army can confirm that James Alex Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015,” said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson. “He was, however, released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015.”
Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told the AP late Saturday that she knew her son was going to Virginia for a political rally, but she had no idea it involved white supremacists.
“I just told him to be careful,” she said, adding she warned him that if there were protests “to make sure he’s doing it peacefully.”
In a photo taken by the New York Daily News, Fields was shown standing Saturday with a half-dozen other men, all wearing the Vanguard America uniform of khakis and white polo shirts. The men held white shields with Vanguard America’s black-and-white logo of two crossed axes. The Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee was in the background.
The Daily News said the photo was taken about 10:30 a.m. just hours before authorities say Fields crashed his car into the crowd at 1:42 p.m. The Anti-Defamation League says Vanguard America believes the U.S. is an exclusively white nation, and uses propaganda to recruit young white men online and on college campuses.
In a Twitter post, the group said it had handed out the shields “to anyone in attendance who wanted them,” and denied Fields was a member. “All our members are safe an (sic) accounted for, with no arrests or charges.”
In blog posts after the violence, the Daily Stormer, a leading white nationalist website that promoted the Charlottesville event, pledged to hold more events “soon.”
Saturday’s chaos erupted as neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacist groups arrived for the rally. Counter-protesters were also on hand, and the two sides clashed, with people throwing punches, hurling water bottles and unleashing chemical sprays. Officials have not provided a crowd estimate but it appeared to number well over 1,000.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, police in riot gear ordered people out of the streets, and helicopters circled overhead. Then, as the counter-protesters marched a few blocks from the statue, the Dodge Challenger tore into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer as she was crossing the street.
Hours later, the helicopter crashed, killing two state police troopers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, one day shy of his 41st birthday.
Red Wings decry logo use
The Detroit Red Wings are decrying the use of their logo by some participants in a white supremacist rally in Virginia.
“The Detroit Red Wings vehemently disagree with and are not associated in any way with the event taking place today in Charlottesville, Va.,” the organization said Saturday in a statement on social media. “The Red Wings believe that hockey is for everyone and we celebrate the great diversity of our fan base and our nation.”
The organization said it is exploring legal action against those misusing the logo.
Photos on social media were being shared widely Saturday of groups that had appropriated the logo during the protest. Some altered the spokes in the winged wheel in a way reminiscent of the Nazi SS logo.
The groups and individuals involved were not immediately identified. However, their logo matches one posted by a group called the Detroit Right Wings on Twitter. The group joined Twitter in July. Another group called the Muskegon Minutemen also uses the altered logo on Twitter.
The National Hockey League said it would take “immediate and all necessary steps to insure the use is discontinued as promptly as possible, and will vigorously pursue other remedies, as appropriate.”