James Alex Fields goes on trial over deadly Charlottesville rally

James Alex Fields Jr faces several charges, including the murder of Heather Heyer at the 2017 Unite the Right rally.

    James Alex Fields Jr, left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville where a white supremacist rally took place [Alan Goffinski/AP Photo]
    James Alex Fields Jr, left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville where a white supremacist rally took place [Alan Goffinski/AP Photo]

    Jury selection in the trial of a man accused of killing Heather Heyer during an August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is slated to begin on Monday.

    James Alex Fields Jr, a 21-year-old Ohio resident, will stand trial for murder and a spate of charges stemming from the deadly car ramming during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.

    During the incident, prosecutors say, Fields slammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heyer and injuring dozens more.

    Earlier in the day, Fields was photographed marching with Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group, during the rally. Throughout the day, rally participants clashed with community members, anti-racists and anti-fascists across the city.

    Unite the Right, called to oppose Charlottesville's decision to remove a Confederate statue, was the largest white nationalist rally in the US in recent decades.

    A counterprotester holds a photo of Heather Heyer on Boston Common at a 'Free Speech' rally organised by conservative activists on August 19, 2017 [Michael Dwyer/AP Photo] 
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    The rally brought out thousands of supporters of the alt-right, a loosely-knit coalition of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis. 

    In Virginia, prosecutors charged Fields with 10 offences, including first-degree murder, five counts of malicious wounding, failure to stop an accident and three counts of malicious assault. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence.

    Federal charges

    Those charges came in addition to dozens of federal charges. In June, the US Department of Justice slapped Fields with 30 federal charges, among them hate crimes, which could result in the death penalty.

    In the wake of the deadly Charlottesville protest, several articles investigating Fields's history found a lengthy social media trail of neo-Nazi content and racist posts.

    Following the rally, far-right participants from across the country faced legal backlash, with a slew of civil suits targeting organisers.

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    White nationalist, neo-Nazi and far-right groups that took to the streets in Charlottesville saw permits for a spate of subsequent public events pulled or denied, while hosting services, social media outlets and tech companies cracked down on far-right individuals and groups. 

    Heyer was among 18 people killed by white supremacists in the US last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

    Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigations released its annual hate crimes report for 2017. According to the report's findings, hate crimes grew for the third consecutive year, increasing by 17 percent. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News