James Fields, the white supremacist who drove his car into a group of protesters and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, has pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
According to the DOJ, Fields pleaded guilty to “one count of a hate crime act that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, and 28 counts of hate crime acts that caused bodily injury and involved an attempt to kill other people within the crowd.” He was already found guilty on state charges of first degree murder this past December.
“In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month, we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions,” Attorney General William Barr said a Justice Department statement. “Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority for me as Attorney General. The defendant in this case has pleaded guilty to 29 hate crimes which he committed by driving his car into a crowd of protesters. These hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism.”
Before running over Heyer and other protesters at the Charlottesville rally, Fields was photographed standing with a shield that prominently featured the logo of the “Vanguard America” hate group.
During his first degree murder trial, Field’s attorneys attempted to frame his actions as having been motivated by fear of the protesters, who’d gathered to condemn the white supremacists, neo-nazis, and other hate group members who’d massed in Charlottesville.
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“He wasn’t angry,” attorney Denise Lunsford told jurors. “He was scared.”
In his plea agreement with the Justice Department, Fields admitted that he’d actually targeted the protesters based on his own hateful ideology.
Per the DOJ’s press release announcing Fields’ plea:
According to a statement of facts agreed to and signed by Fields, and entered into the court record at his guilty plea hearing, Fields admitted that he drove into the crowd of counter-protestors because of the actual and perceived race, color, national origin, and religion of its members. He further admitted that his actions killed Heather Heyer, and that he intended to kill the other victims he struck and injured with his car.
Each of the 29 charges Fields pleaded guilty to carries a maximum life sentence in prison, and up to $250,000 in fines.
Heyers mother Susan Bro has established a foundation named after her daughter to promote tolerance and social justice. In an interview shortly after Fields was found guilty for murdering Heather, Bro admitted that she’s had to keep Heyers ashes “completely protected” in an undisclosed location for fear of racist reprisals against the family.