‘I’m Not a Nazi,’ the third episode of Netflix’s ‘Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet’ focuses on the sudden prevalence of far-right and alt-right groups on social media and takes a look at the incident during the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. James Fields, a man who supported the white supremacist cause, ran into a group of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others. So, if you’re wondering what happened to him and if he was brought to justice, we’ve got you covered.
Who is James Fields?
On August 12, 2017, Unite the Right, a rally of white supremacists who were against the removal of a Confederate general’s statue, occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. Later on, several counter-protestors arrived to promote equality and speak out against white supremacist groups. As the protests devolved into violence, a car rammed into a group of counter-protestors at high speed, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring multiple people in the process.
The driver of that car was James Alex Fields Jr, then a 20-year-old, who drove down from his home in Ohio to attend the rally. He was arrested soon after the incident and charged with several state and federal crimes, including murder. Investigation revealed a disturbing past, with several 911 calls made by his mother where she accused him of threatening and hitting her.
Furthermore, it was clear that James was a Nazi sympathizer. A teacher from his school stated that James was quite interested in Adolf Hitler and Nazi-era Germany, developing a deep interest in white supremacy. Furthermore, classmates mentioned remembering him drawing swastikas. According to the federal indictment, he supported violence against “African Americans, Jewish people and members of other racial, ethnic and religious groups he perceived to be non-white.”
While James drove all the way from Ohio to attend the protest, no evidence indicated that he was tied to any of the white supremacist groups at the rally. The authorities believed that on the day of the incident, James came across an ethnically diverse group of people protesting against the Unite the Right rally and decided to drive into them, intending to cause harm.
During state court proceedings, it was revealed that just months before the incident, James shared an image on Instagram that depicted a car running through a group of protesters. The prosecution argued that James backing up before accelerating into the crowd on August 12 was evidence that it was intentional. On the other hand, the defense claimed that he acted in self-defense because he was scared after violence erupted during the protests. In the federal indictment, the authorities stated that James’ social media accounts showed that he was looking to hurt minorities.
Where is James Fields Today?
In December 2018, James was convicted in Virginia of first-degree murder, in addition to multiple counts of aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding, and leaving the scene of an accident. Then, in March 2019, he pled guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges. As a result, the death penalty was taken off the table, and in June 2019, James was handed down a life sentence.
In relation to the state convictions, he was sentenced to life plus 419 years in July 2019. The legal proceedings weren’t done yet because a civil trial followed. In November 2021, a judge found James liable for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional harm against several defendants he hit with his vehicle. About $12 million in damages made up almost half the total awarded by the court.
The other defendants included infamous white supremacists Christopher Cantwell, Jason Kessler, and Richard Spencer. The court found that the group was responsible for conspiring to organize the Unite the Right rally. For now, James remains incarcerated at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.
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