Alleged car killer was at neo-Nazi rally ahead of attack
THE man accused of ramming a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters in the United States was photographed that morning holding a shield with the emblem of a white supremacist group.
Vanguard America denies that James Alex Fields Jr is a member of its group and says it handed out shields to anyone in attendance who wanted them.
The Anti-Defamation League says Vanguard America believes the US is an exclusively white nation, and uses propaganda to recruit young white men online and on college campuses.
Heather Heyer, 32, was fatally injured after being mowed down in Charlottesville, Virginia by a vehicle allegedly driven by Fields.
The FBI has launched a civil rights investigation and local authorities have already charged the man, 20, with second degree murder and three counts of malicious wounding.
Ms Heyer was in a group that had launched a counter-protest to a weekend 'white power' demonstration in the city in America's southeast.
Police allege Fields deliberately drove his car into the crowd in what some politicians have declared an act of "domestic terrorism".
She was killed and 19 others injured. A fundraising campaign for Ms Heyer has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for her family.
Relatives of Fields told The Washington Post that he grew up mostly in Northern Kentucky, and had been raised by a single mother who was a paraplegic.
"Not really friendly," an uncle told the paper of Fields. "More subdued."
His former high school history teacher described Field as someone "infatuated" the Nazis.
"He was very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler," Derek Weimer told Cincinnati's WCPO news channel.
Mr Weimer said as a student Fields had a big interest in history, "especially with German military history and World War II. But, he was pretty infatuated with that stuff."
MUM: 'I THOUGHT HE WAS AT A TRUMP RALLY'
His mother, meanwhile, said she believed her son was was attending a rally for US President Donald Trump, not for white nationalists.
Samantha Bloom said: "I just knew he was going to a rally. I mean, I try to stay out of his political views. You know, we don't, I don't really get too involved, I moved him out to his own apartment, so I'm watching his cat."
After being told that the rally was organized by white nationalists Ms Bloom told the Associated Press: "I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump's not a white supremacist."
Heather Heyer was killed when a man allegedly drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters. Picture: Twitter
Nineteen were hurt in the ramming, police said, with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.
Earlier, two police officers were killed when a helicopter crashed nearby. The cause of the incident, which occurred in a wooded area, is under investigation, Virginia State Police said.
In addition to the death toll and those injured in the car ramming, another 16 people were hospitalised during clashes with 'pro white' demonstrators.
TRUMP ATTACKED FOR FAILING TO CONDEMN FAR-RIGHT
President Donald Trump's apparent refusal to criticise far-right hate groups sparked sharp criticism, even from members of his Republican Party.
A number of Republican senators, both conservative and moderate, condemned the president's response to Charlottesville.
US Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado called on the president to condemn "white supremacists" and to use the term.
"Mr President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism," tweeted Senator Gardner.
Senator Marco Rubio said the president needed to define the events as "domestic terrorism" at the hands of white supremacists.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah got more personal when he gave his warning.
"My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home," Senator Hatch wrote on Twitter.
Even former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci - also known as 'the Mooch' - slammed Mr Trump's response.
"With the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out," Mr Scaramucci told US ABC News' George Stephanopoulos during his first post-White House interview.
On Sunday morning, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, tweeted for Americans to "be one country UNITED. #Charlottesville". She also posted: "There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis."
Hundreds had descended on the city either to march in or rail against a "Unite the Right Rally," a major gathering of white supremacists, nationalists and other supporters of the so-called "alt-right."
"We had folks who came here to cause mayhem and chaos and mischief that resulted in three fatalities here in the city of Charlottesville," city manager Maurice Jones said at a news conference.
Meantime, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer tweeted: "I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will - go home".
One eyewitness told the New York Post that the attack was definitely "intentional".
"The car was travelling at (65km/h), hit about 15-20 people, crashed into the two cars in front of it, and then backed up and sped away while cops were standing on the side of the road and didn't do anything."
The car ploughed into the crowd two hours after police shut down a white nationalist rally before it could even begin in a Charlottesville park.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had already declared a state of emergency in order "to aid state response to violence" at the rally in Charlottesville, which is about 160 kilometres outside of Washington, D.C.
"It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property," McAuliffe said.
Speaking at a press conference, McAuliffe directly addressed the "white supremacists and the Nazis" who were behind the attack in Charlottesville, telling them to "go home and never come back" and saying "you are not wanted in this great commonwealth".
Meantime, Mr Trump addressed the "terrible" tragedy, speaking a press conference in New Jersey.
"We're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia," Mr Trump said. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides."
"It's been going on for a long time in our country," Mr Trump said. "Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time."
Mr Trump was criticised for taking "hours" to make a statement. First Lady Melania Trump tweeted her thoughts before anyone in the White House.
Mr Trump also stopped short of attacking the white supremacist groups in his tweets or in his public comments.
"We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"
Mrs Trump was the first voice out of the White House to condemn one of the largest race hate rallies in the US for decades.
"Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence," Mrs Trump said.
The white nationalist rally was declared an unlawful assembly after the group were initially granted a permit to hold the event.
Bearing shields and chanting racist slogans, thousands of white nationalists descended on Emancipation Park - formerly Lee Park - in downtown Charlottesville.
Hundreds of counter-protesters were also there, and both sides hurled plastic bottles and sprayed each other with chemicals.
It's the latest confrontation in the city since it voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
US President Donald Trump condemned the violence via Twitter.
However, the president was criticised for only tweeting about the violence after First Lady Melania Trump had herself taken to Twitter.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had planned what he called a "pro-white" rally to protest Charlottesville's decision to remove the General Lee statue.
About 6000 people were expected to attend before it was declared an unlawful assembly.
Mr Kessler says the speeches will go on regardless.
It came after a night where torch-wielding white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting "unite the right" and "you will not replace us" while calling for a split from the United States.
Punches were thrown and placards used as bludgeons before authorities reacted.
"I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus," Mayor Singer said in a statement.
CALLS FOR BREAKAWAY SOUTHERN NATION
As 21st century activists seek to topple monuments to the 19th century Confederate rebellion, some white Southerners are again advocating for what the Confederates tried and failed to do: secede from the Union.
It's not an easy argument to win, and it's not clear how much support the idea has: The leading Southern nationalist group, the Alabama-based League of the South, has been making the same claim for more than two decades.
But the idea of a breakaway Southern nation persists.
The League of the South's longtime president, retired university professor Michael Hill of Killen, Alabama, posted a message in July that began, "Fight or die white man" and went on to say Southern nationalists seek "nothing less than the complete reconquest and restoration of our patrimony - the whole, entire South."
"And that means the South will once again be in name and in actuality White Man's Land. A place where we and our progeny can enjoy Christian liberty and the fruits of our own labour, unhindered by parasitical 'out groups,"' said Prof. Hill's message, posted on the group's Facebook page a day after a rally in support of the a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.
The group's website says it is "waging a war to win the minds and hearts of the Southern people".
While white-controlled government is its goal, the group says in a statement of beliefs that it offers "good will and co-operation to Southern blacks in areas where we can work together as Christians to make life better for all people in the South."
CIVIL WAR STILL SIMMERS
According to the US Census, 55 per cent of the nation's black population lived in the South in 2010, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 per cent or higher.
Hill said they're not advocating for a repeat of a Civil War that claimed 620,000 lives or a return to slavery, the linchpin of the South's antebellum economy.
"We have no interest in going back and recreating an un-recreatable past," Hill said in a telephone interview. "We are future oriented."
The group has erected billboards that said "SECEDE" in several states, and it even has its own banner - a black and white version of the familiar Confederate battle flag, minus the stars.
Secession also finds support on some websites that support white nationalism, including Occidental Dissent, run by a Hill associate, and the openly racist, anti-Semitic Daily Stormer. Extremist watchdog Heidi Beirich said strict Southern nationalism seems to have been swept up into the larger white-power agenda in recent years.
"I think it's mostly subsumed into the white nationalist movement," said Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "There might be a little Southern softness to it. But I can't tell a whole lot of difference between the League and white nationalism."
Secession isn't the sole property of Southern white nationalists. A group that wants California to secede from the United States is based mainly on liberals wanting to exit the United States because of President Donald Trump's election.
They are collecting signatures to place a secession ballot initiative on the 2018 ballot.
The initiative would form a commission to recommend avenues for California to pursue its independence and delete part of the state constitution that says it's an inseparable part of the United States.
The "Calexit" initiative also would instruct the governor and congressional delegation to negotiate more autonomy for California.
Secession also has been discussed on and off for years by the far right in states including Texas, particularly when Barack Obama was president. Online, many Southern nationalists seem animated by drives to remove Confederate memorials, as happened in New Orleans and is planned in Charlottesville, Virginia. Not everyone who supports Confederate monuments wants to remove the South from the United States once again. Some supporters of the Old South say they simply want to honour ancestors who wore the grey during the Civil War. But some want to make a break.
Perhaps the United States should just let the South leave, said author Chuck Thompson.
Thompson's 2012 book "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession" argued that both the United States and the South might both be best served if Southern nationalists won the argument and succeeded in forming a new nation.
The South has been at odds with the rest of the nation for generations over issues including education, race, politics, shared history and religion, Thompson said in a telephone interview, and some things just don't change. "It's not that just the rest of the country would be better off without them," he said. "It's that everyone would be better off without them, both sides."