Two days after he plowed into a group of peaceful counterprotesters with his car, white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. appeared via webcam in Charlottesville General District Court Monday morning.
The Maumee, Ohio, man, 20, is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and a hit-and-run for driving his Dodge Challenger down Fourth Street in the aftermath of the August 12 Unite the Right rally. He struck about two dozen people, killing 32-year-old local activist Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
Fields told Judge Robert Downer he couldn’t afford his own attorney and was appointed Charles “Buddy” Weber, who also represented rally organizer Jason Kessler earlier this year in a misdemeanor assault conviction for punching a man on the Downtown Mall while collecting signatures for his remove-Vice-Mayor-Wes-Bellamy-from-office petition.
Fields’ face appeared on the courtroom’s TV screen from the local jail for several minutes before the judge entered the courtroom. He kept his head down.
Photos from the rally show Fields standing with members of Vanguard America, but the white supremacist group disavowed any association with him.
Fields’ former high school social studies teacher, Derek Weimer, told CNN that Fields had “outlandish, very radical beliefs,” when he taught him at Randall K. Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky.
“It was quite clear he had some really extreme views and maybe a little bit of anger behind them,” Weimer told the Atlanta-based station. “He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
And the Washington Post reports that in 2010, his mother, Samantha Bloom, said he struck her in the head, put his hands over her mouth and threatened to beat her after she told him to stop playing video games. She said he was taking medication to control his temper.
In another instance in October 2011, Bloom, who uses a wheelchair, allegedly called 911 to say her son was threatening her and she didn’t feel in control of the situation, according to the Post. The next month, an unknown caller asked police to come to the house because Bloom wanted Fields to be assessed at the hospital, but was too afraid to take him. The caller said he had just spit in her face and stood behind her with a 12-inch knife the night before.
After Fields’ August 14 court appearance, Traditionalist Worker Party founder Matthew Heimbach, who was scheduled to speak at the Unite the Right rally, defended him outside the courthouse.
“We have seen the pictures and the video of bats coming at that vehicle as a 20-year-old man feared for his life,” Heimbach said. “[Counterprotesters] came prepared for war. They tried to kill us.”
And moments earlier, “The nationalist community defended ourselves against thugs in a battle that was brought by this city that wanted a bloodbath.”