James Alex Fields Jr., the avowed white nationalist charged with intentionally ramming his car into a group of counterprotesters at a deadly 2017 white supremacist rally, pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal hate crime charges.
Fields pleaded guilty to 29 of the 30 federal charges brought against him linked to his part in the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others.
He admitted that he drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters, which included Heyer, because of the group’s perceived race, color, nationality or religion ― which are all possible motivating prejudices under the federal definition of a hate crime. He also admitted that he intended to kill the other victims who were injured in the attack.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr called Fields’ crimes an “act of domestic terrorism.”
“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,” Barr said in a statement from the Department of Justice.
“We will continue to vigorously prosecute violent crimes of hate and we will not allow violence to supplant our pluralism,” he added.
In December, a jury sentenced Fields to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Heyer and to 419 additional years for state charges of aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
Fields reportedly pleaded guilty to all but one of the federal charges on Wednesday to avoid facing the death penalty, according to NBC News. The charge that Fields pleaded not guilty to could carry a death penalty sentence.
Each of the 29 counts to which Fields pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is scheduled to reappear in federal court on July 3.
The “Unite the Right” rally brought violence to the streets of Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, as white nationalists and white supremacists fought off anti-racism counterprotesters. After Fields killed Heyer during the rally, her mother Susan Bro told HuffPost that her daughter was only there to protest racial injustice.
“Heather was not about hate, Heather was about stopping hatred,” Bro said through tears. “Heather was about bringing an end to injustice. I don’t want her death to be a focus for more hatred, I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion.”
President Donald Trump faced fierce criticism for saying that “some very fine people” attended the white supremacy rally and for blaming “both sides,” including the anti-racism protesters, for the violence.