Charlottesville neo-Nazi driver James Fields sentenced to life in prison | News | DW | 28.06.2019

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Charlottesville neo-Nazi driver James Fields sentenced to life in prison

A self-described neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a crowd of protesters at a white supremacist rally and killed a woman has been sentenced to life in prison for hate crimes by a US federal court in Virginia.

A man who intentionally drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters during a 2017 white supremacist rally in the US city of Charlottesville, Virginia was sentenced to life in prison without parole by a US federal court on Friday for hate crimes. 

James Fields, a self-avowed neo-Nazi, killed 32 year-old Heather Heyer and injured and 19 others in the attack. Fields pleaded guilty to the charges in March under a deal with prosecutors who agreed to not seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors noted that Fields, 22,  had long espoused violent beliefs and had shown no remorse for his crimes. He reportedly disparaged Heyer's mother during a phone call from jail, calling her the "enemy" and an "anti-white liberal."

Prosecutors also read testimony from one of Fields' high school classmates who told them that Fields was "like a kid a Disney World" during a class trip to a Nazi concentration camp memorial in Germany. According to the report, Fields had said "this is where the magic happened." 

Rechtsextremer Terror USA Charlottesville Heather Heyer Anschlag Trauer

Protesters hold a picture of Heather Heyer in 2017

Apology not accepted 

Before he was sentenced, Fields reportedly asked for forgiveness after dozens of survivors and witnesses delivered testimony about the physical and psychological trauma they have been through. 

"I apologize for the hurt and loss I've caused," he told the courtroom. "Every day I think about how things could have gone differently and how I regret my actions. I'm sorry."

Read more: Charlottesville: Between defiance and new hope

Judge Michael Urbanski was unmoved by his plea and said Fields was a "a profoundly disturbed young man" with a history of violence and releasing him back into society would be "too great a risk to take."

The court had previously shown graphic video of the attack, with Fields accelerating his Dodge Challenger into the back of a car that had stopped in front of the demonstrators, sending the vehicles crashing into the crowd and bodies flying through the air. 

Read more: Charlottesville: White nationalist found guilty of murder for driving car into counterprotester

Alt-right in the US 

The attack took place on August 12, 2017, as tensions erupted after a two-day "Unite the Right" drew hundreds of white nationalists to the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

White nationalists, who marched first with torches and later with medieval-style shields, and their presence drew a hundreds of counterprotesters. Fields had reportedly driven from his home in Ohio to attend the rally in Virginia. 

Read more: White supremacy and neo-Nazis in the US - what you need to know

The rally had been considered a defining moment for the rise of the so-called "alt-right" movement in the US, a loose mix of white supremacist groups that had been emboldened by the victory of President Donald Trump.

After the rally, Trump was criticized from both sides of the political spectrum for saying there were "fine people on both sides," and for not specifically condemning the neo-Nazis.

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wmr/bw (Reuters, AP,dpa, AFP)