Amid the chaos of a canceled “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia attended by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other members of the so-called alt-right on Saturday, a man who has now been arrested drove a car directly into other vehicles and a crowd of people protesting the march.
According to the AP, at least one person died, and 26 others were treated at local hospitals.
The Washington Post identified the suspect as 20-year-old James Alex Fields of Ohio, and wrote authorities have booked him “on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding, failure to stop for an accident involving a death, and hit and run.” He is being held without bail.
Later in the evening, a police helicopter crashed, killing two other people in what authorities told the AP was a connected incident.
The exact moment the car slammed into another car at high speed, sending protesters flying through the air, was captured on Rebelutionary_Z’s Periscope livestream (starting at around 7:30; warning, the footage is disturbing).
Another video from a different angle posted by Twitter user Brennan Gilmore, former chief of staff to gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello, showed the vehicle driving down an entire street to ram the other car. It then backed out as people dove out of the way, dragging parts of another vehicle with it.
According to the Outline’s Will Turton, at least two female protesters marching with the Democratic Socialists of America were hit by the car and injured.
“Absolutely intentional,” a person at the scene told Turton. “A packed street and a car comes speeding down, at least 40 mph and rams into everyone, backs up and does it again.”
Update August 13th, 10:58 a.m.: Photos appear to show suspect James Alex Fields in formation with members of Vanguard America, a white supremacist group which the Anti-Defamation League writes has shifted towards a neo-Nazi ideology in recent years. One of the images depicts a man believed to be Fields holding a black shield and standing in formation with other supremacists.
“Vanguard America is active online, particularly on Twitter, but is best known for posting white supremacist fliers at universities across the country throughout the 2016-17 school year,” the ADL wrote. “During the year, the ADL counted at least 32 incidents where VA fliers were posted on campus in Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.”
According to the Toledo Blade, Fields’ mother Samantha Bloom said he had dropped off his cat at her apartment so he could attend an “alt-right” rally in Virginia, though she said she had tried to stay away from his political views.
The New York Daily News reported Fields’ Facebook page was covered with imagery common among members of the alt-right set, “such as Hitler’s baby photo; a tourist shot of the Reichstag in Berlin; and a cartoon of Pepe the Frog, the anthropomorphic frog hijacked by right-wing groups.”
Vanguard has denied Fields is affiliated with their organization.
Update 9:09 p.m.: Journalist Ken Schwencke tweeted that after repeated inquiries as to whether the president would denounce white supremacists, the only response from the White House was that “on background, the president condemns all acts of violence.”
Update 8:39 p.m.: Authorities have identified a suspect, 20-year-old James Alex Fields of Ohio. He is currently being held on suspicion of various crimes including “second-degree murder, malicious wounding, failure to stop for an accident involving a death, and hit and run,” per the Washington Post.
Update 8:10 p.m.: The president has finally acknowledged the victims of the car crash incident directly—in a tweet.
Trump offered his condolences to the family of the woman killed by the collision, and in what appeared to be a stunning lack of sympathy, offered his “best regards” to the injured.
Update 7:03 p.m.: Authorities now say two people died in the helicopter crash near Charlottesville late Saturday afternoon, and that the deaths are connected to the Unite the Right rally, but have not said how.
Trump seemingly confirmed the two who died were Virginia State Police officers, tweeting his “deepest condolences.” In earlier remarks on Saturday, Trump did not directly mention the victims of the car crash incident or denounce white supremacists specifically, but vaguely blamed “many sides” for contributing to the violence.
Update 6:41 p.m.: The organizer behind the Unite the Right rally, Jason Kessler, said in an interview that the driver of the vehicle “did the wrong thing” but also blamed law enforcement for the widespread chaos at the rally, according to the AP.
A virtually unending stream of evidence on social media, however, showed white supremacists arrived at the rally today armed for a fight. Many carried improvised weapons and armor, and some charged into crowds of counter-protesters to start brawls.
Numerous militiamen with long arms also arrived at the rally, and there were multiple reports white supremacists who fought with counter-protesters drew firearms on the crowd.
Update 5:49 p.m.: The Daily Progress, a Charlottesville-area newspaper, reported a Virginia State Police police helicopter in the area has crashed. It is unclear whether the incident has anything to do with police operations following Unite the Right, but neighbors told the paper the helicopter “hovered low over houses before going into nearby woods.”
Update 4:38 p.m.: According to the AP, at least one person has now been confirmed dead as a result of the collision, while 26 were treated at local hospitals. The exact number of deaths and injuries remains in flux at this time, and this post will be updated.
Update 4:19 p.m.: In an interview with Gizmodo, white supremacist and alt-right organizer Richard Spencer distanced himself and the far-right movement from the perpetrator behind the wheel of the vehicle.
“I don’t know what happened,” Spencer said. “I absolutely reject that kind of aggression, I simply don’t know what happened.”
“I’m just not gonna make a statement until I get the facts about it,” Spencer added. “... This was a wide open rally. I did not initiate this rally or organize it. I was invited to it.”
He also clarified a photo widely circulating on Twitter of a man being arrested did not show him.
Spencer said much of the violence in Charlottesville was the result of a heavy police presence that suppressed the event’s attendees and failed to prevent street clashes.
“I blame Mayor Signer,” Spencer said. “Just a horrible person, I mean he’s a total creep. And then also the governor has to take some blame because he’s the person who declared the statement of emergency.”
Asked if he had more understanding of what Black Lives Matter protesters had experienced at demonstrations, Spencer said it was an “interesting question.”
“I don’t think the cops are out hunting blacks or anything like that, but I don’t think the cops themselves are to blame for this,” he added. “The people to blame are the authorites involved.”
Update 3:55 p.m.: In a rambling statement on the incident, President Donald Trump condemned the “egregious display of bigotry” in Charlottesville, but blamed the violence on “many sides.” He said the violence did not start under him or his predecessor Barack Obama, but had been going on for a long time.
The president then promised the “swift restoration of law and order,” adding “No child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.” He asked the public to “cherish our history,” but declined to mention the rally was over the removal of a Confederate monument. Trump also touted his administration’s record on job creation.
Trump added his government was working to restore the “sacred bonds of loyalty” with citizens, but that the public needed to do the same. Trump repeatedly declined to answer questions on whether he denounced white nationalism, signed a bill, and left the stage.
Update 3:35 p.m.: Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer has tweeted that at least one person was killed during the collision.
Additionally, Vice reports a suspect has been arrested in relation to the incident.
Update 3:25 p.m.: The Associated Press and Getty have photos of the aftermath of the incident. A number of people seem to have been seriously wounded by the crash, while others appear to have minor injuries. Conflicting reports in the Post and the New York Times suggest the number of confirmed injured has risen to at least eight to 10 people.