CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The driver charged with killing a woman at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was previously accused of beating his mother and threatening her with a knife, according to police records released Monday.
Authorities say 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on Saturday in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The records from the Florence Police Department in Kentucky show the man’s mother had called police in 2011. Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told police he stood behind her wielding a 12-inch knife. Bloom is disabled and uses a wheelchair.
In another incident in 2010, Bloom said that Fields smacked her in the head and locked her in the bathroom after she told him to stop playing video games.
Bloom told officers Fields was on medication to control his temper.
Earlier Monday, Fields was denied bond after the public defender’s office said it couldn’t represent him because a relative of someone in the office was injured in Saturday’s protest. The judge was forced to find a local attorney to fill in, Charles Weber, who did not immediately respond to phone messages. No one answered the door at his office Monday.
Fields was not present in the courtroom but appeared via video monitor dressed in a black-and-white striped uniform. Seated, he answered questions from the judge with simple responses of “Yes, sir” when asked if he understood what was being explained to him. Fields also replied “No, sir” when asked if he had ties to the community of Charlottesville.
Judge Robert Downer set an Aug. 25 hearing for Fields, who has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts.
Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out in the 9th grade by officials at the Randall K. Cooper high school in Union, Kentucky, for his “deeply held, radical” convictions on race, his former high school teacher Derek Weimer said Sunday.
Keegan McGrath, 18, who said he was roommates with Fields on a class trip to Europe in 2015, said Fields referred to Germany as “the Fatherland,” had no interest in being in France, and refused to interact with the French.
“He just really laid on about the French being lower than us and inferior to us,” McGrath told the AP on Monday.
McGrath challenged Fields on his beliefs, and the animosity between them grew so heated that it came to a boil at dinner on their second day. He said he went home after three or four days because he said he couldn’t handle being in a room with Fields.
The incident shocked McGrath because he had been in German class with Fields for two unremarkable years.
“He was just a normal dude” most of the time, although he occasionally made “dark” jokes that put his class on edge, including one “off-hand joke” about the Holocaust, McGrath said.
McGrath said that Fields wasn’t ostracized and doesn’t believe Fields deserves sympathy.
“He had friends, he had people who would chat with him, it wasn’t like he was an outcast.”
Weimer described Fields as an “average” student, but with a keen interest in military history, Hitler, and Nazi Germany.
“Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy toward Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy,” Weimer said. “It would start to creep out.”
Fields also confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger and had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication, Weimer said.
The violence in Charlottesville also was blamed for the deaths of two Virginia State Police officers who were killed when a helicopter crashed during the large-scale police response.
Fields had been photographed hours before the attack with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part in the “take America back” campaign to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. The group on Sunday denied any association with the suspect.
Meanwhile, a message posted Saturday night on a leading neo-Nazi website called The Daily Stormer promised future events that would be “bigger than Charlottesville.”
The mayor of Charlottesville, political leaders of all political stripes, and activists and community organizers around the country planned rallies, vigils and education campaigns to combat the hate groups. They also urged President Donald Trump to forcefully denounce the organizations, some of which specifically cited Trump’s election after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric as validation of their beliefs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities would pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.
Weimer said Fields left school for a while, and when he came back he was quieter about politics until his senior year, when politicians started to declare their candidacy for the 2016 presidential race. Weimer said Fields was a big Trump supporter because of what he believed to be Trump’s views on race. Trump’s proposal to build a border wall with Mexico was particularly appealing to Fields, Weimer said. Fields also admired the Confederacy for its military prowess, he said, though they never spoke about slavery.
As a senior, Fields wanted become a tank commander in the Army. Weimer, a former officer in the Ohio National Guard, guided him through the process of applying, he said, believing that the military would expose Fields to people of different races and backgrounds and help dispel his white supremacist views. But Fields was ultimately turned down, which was a big blow, Weimer said. Weimer said he lost contact with Fields after he graduated and was surprised to hear reports that Fields had enlisted in the Army.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson said Fields reported for basic military training in August 2015, but was released from active duty four months later “due to a failure to meet training standards.”
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