The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances under which a vehicle plowed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally held Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A 32-year-old woman was killed and at least nine others injured when a car barreled down a street crowded with pedestrians.
Charlottesville police identified the driver as 20-year-old James Alex Fields of Ohio and charged him with second-degree murder and other crimes.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said late Saturday that he had spoken with FBI Director Chris Wray and that a federal investigation into the incident was under way.
“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Mr. Sessions said. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”
White nationalists gathered in the Virginia college town over the weekend as part of a “pro-white” demonstration to protest the planned removal a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Skirmishes broke out between white nationalists and protesters who condemned the rally as racist and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to marshal additional resources.
Video of the crash shows a gray sports car speeding down a street full of pedestrians before slamming into the back of a stopped vehicle. Pedestrians struck by the car could be seen rolling up and over the hood. Others narrowly missed being struck by jumping out of its path.
The car fled the scene, roaring away from the crash in reverse.
A statement from the FBI indicates the bureau’s Richmond Field Office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia are working together on the civil rights investigation into the deadly crash. Officials declined to comment further.
The Justice Department announcement came as calls for federal investigators to probe Saturday’s violence began to emerge from both sides of the aisle.
Citing the car crash, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called for the Justice Department to “immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”
An Obama-era Justice Department official also called for federal investigators to look into Saturday’s violence.
“Sessions needs to open a DOJ investigation into today’s hate violence. This is what the FBI and the Civil Rts Division are meant to do,” wrote Vanita Gupta, former head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, on Twitter.
Virginia State Police later announced that they had arrested three other men in connection with the rally, held at Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.
Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tennessee was charged with disorderly conduct; 21-year-old Jacob L. Smith, of Louisa, Virginia, was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery; and 44-year-old James M. O’Brien of Gainesville, Florida was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.
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