What We Know About Driver Charged In Deadly Charlottesville Crash

Originally published on August 14, 2017 5:21 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The most violent moment of this past weekend's demonstrations in Charlottesville happened when a man drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters. One woman was killed. Nineteen others were hurt. Police say the driver was James Alex Fields Jr. He's 20 years old, and he had traveled to Virginia from his home in Ohio. He's now been charged with second-degree murder. And the FBI is pursuing a civil rights investigation.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, people who know Fields say they're actually surprised that he did something so violent but not surprised by his political views. Reporters from the Toledo Blade tracked down Fields's mother, Samantha Bloom.

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SAMANTHA BLOOM: I just knew he was going to a rally. I mean, you know, I try to stay out of his political views.

GREENE: Bloom says she told her son to be careful at the rally. The Toledo Blade also spoke to Derek Weimer. He's a former teacher of James Fields. Weimer says Fields was smart, that he had friends and that he used history to back up his ideas.

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DEREK WEIMER: But after you talked to him for a little while, you would start getting things that - you know, your radar would start going off, as far as his views on Nazism, Adolf Hitler, white supremacy. You always get those kids who are, like, really into military history. And of those kids, you always get, like, a couple that go really into the Germans. And then every once in a while - once in a great while, you get a kid or two who'll start to go beyond that and think, oh well, hey, this great military - but what political system did they back up? What was Hitler? What did really believe in? You might get one or two that start saying, gosh, I - that don't make sense to me.

MARTIN: Derek Weimer didn't keep up much with James Fields after he graduated from high school. But he thinks Fields found a community that fostered his pro-Nazi ideas. Photos from this weekend show Fields marching in Charlottesville. He was carrying a shield supporting a group called Vanguard America, which advocates for a, quote, "nation exclusively for white American peoples," end quote. Although, Vanguard America says Fields is not one of its members.

GREENE: And it is still not at all clear why Fields went from marching to driving into a crowd of people who were protesting the gathering of white supremacists. Fields is going to be appearing in court today. His old teacher Derek Weimer is reflecting on how he got there.

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WEIMER: Your mission as a teacher is, really, you're teaching these kids valuable fundamentals and skills to be successful in life and to be good citizens. And, you know, when you see something like, you know, what culminated with James Fields, it's a complete defeat. It's a teacher's worst nightmare.

GREENE: That was the voice there of a high school teacher who once taught the man suspected of driving his car into counter-protesters on Saturday. We are listening to a range of voices this morning reacting to the violence in Charlottesville. We have spoken to Virginia's governor, Terry McAuliffe, also, supporters of President Trump in upstate New York and a conservative writer on the president's role at a moment like this. We hope you'll continue the conversation with us on social media. I am on Twitter at @nprgreene. Rachel is @rachelnpr. And the program is @MorningEdition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.