Charlottesville car attack suspect idolised Hitler - ex teacher

A man accused of driving a car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters in Virginia was fascinated with Nazism, idolised Adolf Hitler and had been singled out at school for his "deeply held, radical" convictions on race, a teacher has said.

James Fields also confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger and had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication, Derek Weimer said.

In high school, Fields was an "average" student, but had a keen interest in military history, Hitler, and Nazi Germany, said Mr Weimer, his social studies teacher at Randall K Cooper school in Union, Kentucky.

"Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolisation of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy," Mr Weimer said.

"It would start to creep out."

Police have charged Fields, 20, with second-degree murder and other offences for allegedly driving his silver Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville on Saturday, killing a 32-year-old woman and wounding at least 19 other people.

A Virginia State Police helicopter sent in a large-scale police response to the violence then crashed into woods outside the town, killing both troopers on board.

Fields had been photographed hours earlier carrying the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the white supremacist hate groups that organised the "take America back" campaign sparked by the removal of a Confederate statue.

The group denied any association with Fields, even as a separate hate group that organised Saturday's rally pledged on social media to stage future events that would be "bigger than Charlottesville".

The mayor of Charlottesville, political leaders, activists and community organisers around the US planned rallies, vigils and education campaigns to combat the hate groups.

They also urged US president Donald Trump to forcefully denounce the organisations, some of which specifically cited Mr Trump's election after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric as validation of their beliefs.

Federal authorities are holding a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Mr Weimer said school officials had singled out Fields when he was in the 9th grade for his political beliefs and "deeply held, radical" convictions on race and Nazism.

"It was a known issue," he said.

He said Fields left school for a while and when he came back he was quieter about politics until his senior year, when politicians started to declare their candidacy for the 2016 presidential race.

Mr Trump's proposal to build a border wall with Mexico was particularly appealing to Fields, Mr Weimer said.

He said Fields also admired the Confederacy for its military prowess, though they never spoke about slavery.

As a senior, Fields wanted to join the army and Mr Weimer, a former officer in the Ohio National Guard, guided him through the process of applying, believing that the military would expose him to people of different races and backgrounds and help him dispel his white supremacist views.

But Fields was ultimately turned down, which was a big blow, Mr Weimer said.

Mr Weimer said he lost contact with Fields after he graduated and was surprised to hear reports that he had enlisted in the army.

"The Army can confirm that James Alex Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015, said army spokeswoman Lt Col Jennifer Johnson.

"He was, however, released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015."

Fields' mother, Samantha Bloom, said on Saturday that she knew her son was going to Virginia for a political rally, but had no idea it involved white supremacists.

"I just told him to be careful," she said, adding she warned him that if there were protests "to make sure he's doing it peacefully".

"I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump's not a white supremacist," said Ms Bloom, speaking from Maumee, Ohio, where she had lived with her son until he moved out a few months ago.

In a photo taken by the New York Daily News, Fields was shown on Saturday with half a dozen other men, all wearing the Vanguard America uniform of khakis and white polo shirts.

The men held shields with Vanguard America's black-and-white logo of two crossed axes. The Confederate statue of Robert E Lee was in the background.

The Daily News said the photo was taken at about 10.30am on Saturday, just hours before authorities say Fields crashed his car into the crowd at 1.42pm.

The Anti-Defamation League says Vanguard America believes the US is an exclusively white nation and uses propaganda to recruit young white men online and on college campuses.

In a Twitter post, the group said it had handed out the shields "to anyone in attendance who wanted them" and denied Fields was a member.

Saturday's chaos erupted as neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacist groups arrived for the rally.

Counter-protesters were also there and the two sides clashed, with people throwing punches, hurling water bottles and unleashing chemical sprays.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, police in riot gear ordered people out of the streets, and helicopters circled overhead.

Then, as the counter-protesters marched a few blocks from the statue, the Dodge Challenger tore into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer as she was crossing the road.

Hours later, the helicopter crashed, killing the state police troopers.

Mr Trump criticised the violence in a tweet on Saturday and called for "a swift restoration of law and order".

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," he said.

But the "on many sides" remark angered critics, who said he failed to specifically denounce white supremacy and equated those who came to protest against racism with the extremists.

AP


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