CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement Saturday indicating a federal investigation has been opened into the events surrounding the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sessions, who had already condemned the violence and “any message of hate and intolerance” as events were unfolding, delivered the following statement as the dust settled in the home of the University of Virginia:
The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated. I have talked with FBI Director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene, and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia. The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day. U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice. Justice will prevail.
A joint press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the Richmond Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the authorities most directly responsible for the federal inquiry, added:
The Richmond FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident that occurred earlier Saturday morning. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and as this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.
What eyewitnesses described as rolling fist fights and battles with thrown projectiles broke out almost immediately after the hundreds of “Alt Right” activists and other white nationalist rallygoers made their way to the statue of Robert E. Lee, whose potential removal was the event’s primary ostensible concern. A state of emergency was quickly declared and the assembly designated unlawful.
After the rally around Lee’s statue, in the recently renamed “Emancipation Park,” had been dispersed, one woman, now identified as 32-year old Heather Heyer, a local paralegal, was killed and several others seriously injured, when a car sped into a counter-protest rally taking place on the other side of Charlottesville’s central downtown mall. The circumstances leading to Heyer’s killing are themselves the subject of what Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas called a “criminal homicide investigation” at a press conference Saturday.
The suspect driver, 20-year old James Alex Fields of Ohio, is in custody, having been arrested “moments” after the crash. He is suspected of involvement with one of the white nationalist groups participating in the Unite the Right rally.
In a separate tragedy, Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke Bates of the Virginia State Police were killed when their helicopter, dispatched to observe the rally and counter-protests, crashed into trees on the outskirts of Charlottesville.