A 20-year-old Ohio man named James Alex Fields Jr. was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly ramming his car into a group of peaceful anti-Nazi protesters in Virginia on Saturday, killing one person and injuring 19 others. At least one prominent Republican — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — thinks that murder charge should be upgraded to a terrorism charge.
Fields was charged with second-degree murder and three counts of malicious wounding and is currently being held without bail at the Albemarle Regional Jail in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A 32-year-old woman, who has not yet been publicly identified, was killed after Fields allegedly drove a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger into the crowd of people counterprotesting a white supremacist rally, before putting the car in reverse and hitting more people. At least five victims are currently in critical condition, according to the Washington Post. Two Virginia State Police officers also died on Saturday after their helicopter crashed nearby while monitoring the protests.
Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told the Toledo Blade her son had dropped his cat off with her so that he could attend an “alt right” rally. “I told him to be careful,” she told the paper. “[And] if they’re going to rally to make sure he’s doing it peacefully.”
President Trump briefly addressed the attack during a bill-signing ceremony at his golf club in New Jersey (where he is currently on vacation) but declined to condemn the white supremacists, saying only that there is “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” Trump also sent his “condolences” to the family of the woman who was killed, his “best regards” to those who were injured, and described the attack as “So sad!”
The moral equivalency in Trump’s response drew bipartisan scorn from politicians condemning the white supremacist movement. Sen. Ted Cruz, a former solicitor general, even went so far Saturday night as to demand that the perpetrator be prosecuted for domestic terrorism by the Department of Justice.
“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate,” Cruz said in a statement. “Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”
An hour later, the Department of Justice announced it would open a federal civil rights investigation into the “violence and deaths in Charlottesville,” in a statement that made no reference to terrorism.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement: “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated. 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. Justice will prevail.”