US white supremacist pleads guilty to hate crimes in deadly car attack

In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, people fly into the air as a vehicle is driven into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP, File)
Updated 28 March 2019

US white supremacist pleads guilty to hate crimes in deadly car attack

  • James Alex Fields Jr. admitted intentionally plowed his speeding car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing a woman and injuring dozens.
  • With Fields' guilty plea, prosecutors may not seek the death penalty against him

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia: In a case that stirred racial tensions across the country, a self-avowed white supremacist pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal hate crime charges in a deadly attack at a white nationalist rally in Virginia, admitting that he intentionally plowed his speeding car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing a woman and injuring dozens.
James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 federal charges stemming from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.
Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against Fields and will dismiss the one count that carried death as a possible punishment. The charges he pleaded guilty to call for life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Fields appeared stoic, with his hands folded in front of him for much of the hearing. He repeatedly responded “yes, sir,” when US District Judge Michael Urbanski asked him if he was pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily.
Under a “statement of facts,” Fields admitted that he “expressed and promoted” white supremacist ideology through his social media accounts and engaged in white supremacist chants during the rally in Charlottesville. He also admitted driving his car into the ethnically diverse crowd of anti-racism protesters because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
Urbanski scheduled sentencing for July 3.
Fields, 21, was convicted in December in a Virginia court of first-degree murder and other state charges for killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others who were protesting against the white nationalists.
The rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of counterprotesters demonstrated against the white nationalists.
President Donald Trump sparked a national uproar when he blamed the violence at the rally on “both sides,” a statement critics saw as a refusal to condemn racism.
After Tuesday’s hearing, US Attorney Thomas Cullen said he hoped the plea agreement would help the victims move on with their lives.

“The defendant’s hate-inspired act of domestic terrorism not only devastated Heather Heyer’s wonderful family and the 28 peaceful protesters ... but it also left an indelible mark on the city of Charlottesville, our state and our country,” Cullen said.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said she and Heyer’s father agreed they did not want prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
“There’s no point in killing him,” she said. “It would not bring back Heather.”
Cullen said prosecutors had been in talks with Fields’ lawyers for months about a potential plea agreement, but did not seek to finalize a deal until US Attorney General William Barr last week authorized him not to seek the death penalty if Fields agreed to plead to 29 counts.
The car attack by Fields came after violent brawling between the two sides prompted police to disband the crowds.
During his state trial, prosecutors said Fields — who described himself on social media as an admirer of Adolf Hitler — drove his car into the crowd because he was angry after witnessing earlier clashes between the white nationalists and the counterprotesters.
The jury rejected a claim by Fields’ lawyers that he acted in self-defense because he feared for his life after witnessing the earlier violence.
During the plea hearing Wednesday, Fields — responding to questions from the judge — said he has been treated for mental health issues since he was 6. He said he is currently on medication for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizoid disorder, explosive onset disorder and ADHD.
More than 30 people were hurt in the car attack. Some who received life-altering injuries described them in anguished detail during the state trial.
Jurors in Fields’ state trial recommended a life sentence plus 419 years, although a judge still has to decide on the punishment. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15.
A reporter asked Bro if she thought her daughter’s death had served some purpose, such as opening a discussion of race relations. She answered: “Sadly, it took a white girl dying before anyone paid attention to civil rights around here ... Heather’s death is at least a catalyst for change.”
Bro said she wouldn’t have chosen that catalyst and added, “I wish we would have woken up sooner.”


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.