James Fields Jr., 22, is a murderer who richly deserves to pay the penalty for his crime.
Two years ago in August, during a white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, he deliberately drove his car into a crowd of racially diverse counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, and injuring many other peaceful demonstrators.
As prosecutors at his recent trial correctly argued, Fields’ beliefs prompted him to attend that event and steer his Dodge Challenger into his opponents, with tragic results.
Thomas T. Cullen, the U.S. attorney for Virgina’s Western district, acted appropriately in dismissing a plea for mercy by Fields’ lawyers. They said he deserved a lenient sentence because of his difficult childhood and mental health problems.
Fields himself was contrite and apologized.
Cullen would have none of that. “This was calculated, it was cold-blooded,” he said of his crime. “It was motivated by this deep-seated racial animus.”
Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney-general for the federal Justice Departmnent’s civil rights division, was just as emphatic. In a reference to Fields, he said, “He harmed the whole community and he harmed our country through despicable racial violence.”
Mercifully, Fields was sentenced to life in prison on June 28, in a just and judicious verdict.
The Fields case, Cullen noted in an important observation, set a precedent insofar as future cases of domestic terrorism are concerned.
U.S. Attorney-General William Barr alluded to this earlier the year after Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal charges. Hate crimes, said Barr, were “acts of domestic terrorism” that his office would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law down the road.
By this definition, Fields was certainly a terrorist.
In middle school, a fellow classmate recalled, Fields would draw swastikas and talk about “loving Hitler.” According to his high school history teacher, Derek Weimer, he was “deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy. By Weimer’s estimation, Fields was “a very bright kid but very misguided and disillusioned.”
“Once you talked to James for a while,” Weimer said, “you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy. It would start to creep out.”
The chief prosecutor in the Fields trial, Christoper Kavanaugh, said that Fields admired Nazi Germany’s doctrine of racial purity.
On a school trip to Germany, he and his fellow students visited the Dachau concentration camp. “This is where the magic happened,” Fields is purported to have said. “He then skipped happily down the train tracks that transported Jewish prisoners to the camp,” Kavanaugh wrote in summarizing a classmate’s recollection of Fields’ reaction. When the students visited the gas chambers, Fields was elated and happy.
In the months before he committed murder in Charlottesville, prosecutors said, he posted scores of violently racist Twitter and Instagram entries, regularly used the hashtag #Hitlerwasright.
Like Dylan Roof, the racist fanatic who murdered nine African Americans in Charleston in 2015, and Robert Bowers, the deranged antisemite who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, Fields is a misfit who despises or does not understand the principle of racial diversity and harmony in a democratic and pluralistic nation.
People of their ilk should be aware that crimes inspired by racial animus have no place in a decent society.