US Attorney General Jeff Sessions [official website] on Saturday announced a federal civil rights investigation into the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. A “Unite the Right” rally turned deadly when counter-protesters clashed with members of white nationalist groups and 20-year old James Alex Fields drove a car into a crowd, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer and injuring others. Sessions condemned the violence and announced a federal probe:
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.
Mountcastle issued a separate statement [press release] in conjunction with the FBI and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division: “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 will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner.”
The “Unite the Right” rally took place Saturday to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the recently renamed Emancipation Park. The rally drew members of white nationalist groups who marched through the streets of Charlottesville Friday night carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Counter-protesters clashed with these groups Saturday, and 34 were injured. In addition, two state troopers were killed Saturday when the helicopter they were using to monitor the protests crashed.