Driver in fatal car attack at Charlottesville rally charged with federal hate crime

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - A man who was charged with killing a counter-protester during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last year has also been charged by federal authorities with hate crimes and could face the death penalty, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The rally gained international attention when James Alex Fields, Jr. plowed into a group of people protesting the Unite the Right rally. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and dozens were injured.

Fields separately faces state murder charges in Virginia.

RELATED: James Fields' Charlottesville white nationalist murder suspect

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James Fields' Charlottesville white nationalist murder suspect
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is seen in a mugshot released by Charlottesville, Virginia police department after being charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters during the "Unite the Right" protests by white nationalist and "alt-right" demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Charlottesville Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
James Alex Fields Jr., (L) is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police and charged with charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters later in the afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017 REUTERS/Eze Amos
James Alex Fields Jr., (2nd L with shield) is seen attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Emancipation Park before being arrested by police and charged with charged with one count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop at an accident that resulted in a death after police say he drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters later in the afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017 REUTERS/Eze Amos
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 14: Matthew Heinbach of the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party is ushered away by sheriff's deputies outside the Charlottesville General District Court building August 14, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The court held a bond hearing for James Alex Fields, Jr. of Ohio, who is accused of driving his car into a crowd of people protesting against the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members and other alt-right groups on Saturday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach screams at the media outside Charlottesville General Courthouse in defense of James Alex Fields Jr., arrested on suspicion of murder, malicious wounding and hit-and-run charges as a bail hearing for Fields is held inside in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 14: Matthew Heinbach (L) of the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party and another unidentified man shout at journalists gathered outside the Charlottesville General District Court building August 14, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The court held a bond hearing for James Alex Fields, Jr. of Ohio, who is accused of driving his car into a crowd of people protesting against the Unite the Right rally, a gathering of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members and other alt-right groups on Saturday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 14: Reporters enter of the Charlottesville General District Court before a scheduled appearance via video link for James Alex Fields Jr. August 14, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields has been charged with second degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop in an accident resulting in death following an incident where a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter protesters during the 'Unite the Right' rally on August 12, 2017. 32 year old Heather Heyer was killed in the incident. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
1 dead and 20 injured in the terrorist attack executed by James A fields on 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. The Unite the Right instigated brawls between Antifa and various leftists. The brwal ensued and the White Supremacists/Alt Right supporters were forcibly removed by police. (Photo by Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Blood on the ground, left i the wake of the terrorist attacked executed by James A Fields on 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. The Unite the Right instigated brawls between Antifa and various leftists. The brwal ensued and the White Supremacists/Alt Right supporters were forcibly removed by police. (Photo by Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 12: The silver Dodge Charger alledgedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. passes near the Market Street Parking Garage moments after driving into a crowd of counter-protesters on Water Street on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer, 32 years old, was killed and 19 others injured when they were struck by Fields' car. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
After the terrorist attack executed by James A Fields, Street medics and EMS attempted to treat the victims of the attack on 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. The Unite the Right instigated brawls between Antifa and various leftists. The brwal ensued and the White Supremacists/Alt Right supporters were forcibly removed by police. (Photo by Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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The violence was sparked after hundreds of people, some carrying white nationalist symbols and Confederate flags descended on Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a statue honoring a Confederate commander.

A clash between the protesters and counter-protesters forced Charlottesville authorities to declare a curfew.

"Today's indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

At the time, U.S. President Donald Trump was condemned by both Democratic and Republican politicians after he said blame for the violence rested on "many sides."

RELATED: Charlottesville rally victim Heather Heyer's memorial

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Charlottesville rally victim Heather Heyer's memorial
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Charlottesville rally victim Heather Heyer's memorial
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro passes a picture of her daughter after speaking at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 16: People embrace at the spot where Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured when a car slammed into a crowd of people protesting against a white supremacist rally, August 16, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville will held a memorial service for Heyer Wednesday, four days after she was killed when a participant in a white nationalist, neo-Nazi rally allegedly drove his car into the crowd of people demonstrating against the 'alt-right' gathering. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro is embraced by Heyer coworker/supervisor Alfred Wilson at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Mourners attend a memorial service inside the Paramount Theater for car attack victim Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's cousin Diana Ratcliff fights back tears as she speaks at a memorial service for Heyer inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro is embraced by Heyer coworker/supervisor Alfred Wilson at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro passes a picture of her daughter after speaking at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's father Mark Heyer arrives for her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16. 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
People line up to attend the memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed at in a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe waits to make a statement after the memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro receives a standing ovation during her remarks at a memorial service for her daughter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro takes the stage to speak at a memorial service for her daughter at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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According to the indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Fields routinely promoted racist ideologies on his social media accounts, including expressing support for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

Prior to heading out for the rally, it says, a family member texted and told him to be careful.

"We're not the ones who need to be careful," he responded, along with an image of Adolf Hitler.

He is charged with willfully causing bodily harm to Heyer, which resulted in her death, "because of the actual and perceived race, color, religion, and national origin of individuals in a crowd."

He also faces multiple counts of committing a hate crime with an attempt to kill, and charges of bias-motivated interference with federally protected activity resulting in death.

The hate crimes case is eligible for the death penalty, though whether capital punishment will be pursued is still unknown.

In addition, the grand jury also found that he intentionally killed Heyer and that he knew his actions would create the grave risk of death.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell)

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