Feds Add Hate Crime Charge in Virginia Protest Killing

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James Alex Fields, who was accused of killing a woman and injuring dozens of others last summer by plowing his car into a crowd protesting white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., was indicted Wednesday on federal hate crime charges, the Wall Street Journal reports. The case was closely watched by civil rights activists who were unsure if Attorney General Jeff Sessions would pursue such charges. A grand jury indicted Fields, 21, on 30 charges, including one count of a hate crime resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, and 28 other hate crimes involving attempts to kill other people. The final count was for racially motivated violence at a protest.

All the victims were protesting an August 2017 rally that drew hundreds of white supremacists to Charlottesville, Va., to oppose the removal of a Confederate statue. The victims were counterprotesters, many of whom held signs promoting equality and denouncing racism. President Trump was criticized in many quarters for  suggesting an equivalence between the white supremacists and those marching against them. On Wednesday, Sessions spoke of the Justice Department’s determination to enforce civil rights. The murder charges Fields faces in Virginia already carry the prospect of a long sentence, so the addition of federal hate crimes charges could be largely symbolic. Civil rights activists were pleased with the Justice Department’s action, though some said they had doubts about the Trump administration more broadly, given its approach to such issues as gay rights.

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