Charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in a death, it is under no doubt that the 20-year-old man responsible committed an awful crime.
However, from those charges there is no indication as to just what an abhorrent crime that 20-year-old, James Alex Fields, had actually committed in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
It could be quite easy to imagine from those charges alone an individual becoming enraged and targeting known associates, or perhaps a case of severe road rage turned tragic. What those charges don’t typically paint the image of is an individual intentionally targeting a large group of random individuals with whom the perpetrator had no known connections other than a conflicting ideology.
Fields was known to have Neo-Nazi sympathies, and had earlier in the day attended a far-right demonstration in the same city. Here there were violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters, which while violence should never be condoned, was not unsurprising given the controversial views on display at the rally.
Racism and xenophobia is an issue that is always going to create tension and counter-protesting, and as such far-right rallies are often a touchpaper for violence. The anti-fascist protesters at the ‘alt-right’ rally were not entirely innocent in their actions, chasing away the organiser of the rally while they were attempting to conduct an interview.
There is no question that society cannot allow such rhetoric to exist, as it directly threatens the multiculturalism that Western society prides itself on, but at the same time the virtues of free speech mean that, even if the views of a person are severely against the acceptable and anger others, they still do have a right to be heard.
You cannot educate people without communication, and some of the anti-fascist protesters didn’t appear to respect that communication – even if you sometimes do not want it to be – is a two-way process.
Nevertheless, the issues and actions of others earlier in the day still gave no right to Fields to carry out the act that he did; to drive his Dodge Challenger at high speed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. In hitting that crowd, Fields killed one protester and injured a number of others.
He was arrested a few streets away from the scene, and was charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in a death.
However, there was one question that immediately formed from that, which was why he hadn’t been charged on account of committing an act of domestic terrorism. For all intents and purposes, that was exactly what Fields had done, and yet there was no indication that he was being seen as that; as a terrorist.
The definition for a terrorist as most understand it these days is an individual who directly targets random, innocent people with the intent to injure and kill them, usually driven by either a hatred for a certain type of person or by a significantly differing ideology. In the case of Fields, it was his ideology which significantly differed from those he targeted.
He was a known far-right supporter with Neo-Nazi sympathies, and he directly targeted a group of anti-fascist protesters, with a clear intent to seriously harm those individuals he hit, given the speed and directness with which he drove into the crowd.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out on Monday to call the events in Charlottesville an “evil attack” and stated that Fields’ actions had all the legal requirements to be considered domestic terrorism, a significant and strong statement from a high-ranking judicial figure, but it continues to seem like under the Trump administration that far-right extremism just isn’t viewed in the same way as Islamic or other religious extremism.
President Trump himself, and after significant backlash and vocal calls for him to do so, took until late on Monday to even directly address the racist and far-right element of the Charlottesville incident, instead spending time bouncing rounds claims that he was simply not addressing it directly as to ensure he was including all types of intolerance and extremism, not just far-right groups.
Yet, despite this, Trump was vocal in his attacks on Islamic extremism during the campaign trail, and even just a quick glance through his social media will demonstrate on numerous occasions when the President has called out foreign and religious extremism almost instantly.
As such, the question must be asked of the Trump administration as to whether they are truly taking far-right extremism as seriously as they are other forms, such as religious extremism.
President Trump is well aware that he gained a large amount of support from right-wing, and by extension far-right, voters during the election, with his strict immigration policies and military spending plans resonating well with those supporters.
Therefore, is it a case that Trump is holding back on condemning this form of extremist view because he fears risking alienating a, while likely small, very vocal group of support?
We will likely never know the true answers to that, as the White House would be beyond foolish to allow such an admission, but the current situation certainly raises some alarming concerns about the state and views of the current US administration.