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Man accused of ramming Charlottesville protesters pictured with racist group

James Alex Fields Jr., left, in a crowd of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Hours later, the police say, he killed a 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people by driving a car into a line of other cars. (Hawes Spencer/The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH  VA RALLY DRIVER BY JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH AND ALAN BLINDER FOR AUG. 14, 2017. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --

Hawes Spencer/New York Times

James Alex Fields Jr. (left) was spotted at Saturday’s event in Charlottesville, Va.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The man accused of plowing a car into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally was photographed carrying the emblem of one of the hate groups that joined in the event and was described by a former teacher as a fervent Nazi sympathizer.

The violence Saturday prompted responses in cities across the country, where groups held both candlelight vigils in support of Charlottesville and the victims and protests against white supremacy. In West Virginia and Florida, activists and others pledged to work to remove Confederate statues in their cities.

Vehicle plows into peaceful marchers in Charlottesville

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Several news photos showed the suspect, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, standing with a half-dozen other men, all wearing the Vanguard America uniform of khakis and white polo shirts.

The men were holding white shields with Vanguard America’s black-and-white logo of two crossed axes. The Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee was in the background.

Vanguard America denied any association with Fields, who was charged with second-degree murder after the attack, which killed a woman and wounded at least 19 other people.

The Anti-Defamation League says Vanguard America believes the United States is an exclusively white nation and uses propaganda to recruit young white men online and on college campuses. In a Twitter post, the group said it had handed out the shields ‘‘to anyone in attendance who wanted them.’’

In blog posts after the violence, the Daily Stormer, a leading white nationalist website that promoted the Charlottesville event, pledged to hold more events.

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‘‘We are going to start doing this nonstop,’’ the post said. ‘‘We are going to go bigger than Charlottesville. We are going to go huge.’’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that federal authorities would pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash. The FBI field office in Richmond and the US attorney’s office in the Western District of Virginia are investigating.

Protesters decrying hatred and racism converged Sunday in front of President Trump’s New York home and elsewhere around the country, saying they felt compelled to counteract the white supremacist rally.

It was one of dozens of rallies from New England to California. People carrying signs with such messages as ‘‘White Supremacy Is Terrorism’’ and ‘‘Another Suburban Mom Against White Supremacy’’ gathered in Greenville, S.C.

Fields (second from left) held a black shield in Charlottesville.

Alan Goffinski/Associated Press

Fields (second from left) held a black shield in Charlottesville.

Some of the events focused on supporting people whom white supremacists’ condemn. Some pushed for the removal of Confederate monuments, the issue that initially prompted white nationalists to gather in protest in Charlottesville.

Other gatherings aimed to denounce fascism and a US administration that organizers think has empowered white supremacists.

‘‘People need to wake up, recognize that, and resist it as fearlessly as it needs to be done,’’ said Carl Dix, a leader of the Refuse Fascism group organizing demonstrations in several cities. ‘‘This can’t be allowed to fester and to grow because we’ve seen what happened in the past when that was allowed.

‘‘It has to be confronted,’’ said Dix, a New Yorker who spoke by phone from Charlottesville.

Saturday’s rally quickly turned violent as hundreds of supremacists clashed with counterprotesters in the streets. About two hours later, a Dodge Challenger accelerated into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying — and then reversed at high speed, hitting more people.

The street was filled with people opposed to the nationalists, who had come to town bearing Confederate flags and anti-Semitic epithets.

At least 14 people were injured in the street clashes, and 19 people were hurt by the car, including five in critical condition.

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Separately, two state troopers were killed when the helicopter they were flying as part of a police effort at the rally crashed outside the city.

The suspect accused of striking people with his car espoused Nazi ideals in high school, according to Derek Weimer, who was Fields’s history teacher at Randall K. Cooper High School in Kentucky.

James Alex Fields Jr. was charged with second degree murder after he reportedly drove his car into a crowd of protestors in Charlottesville, Va.

European PressPhoto Agency

Fields, in his booking photo.

During a class called ‘‘America’s Modern Wars,’’ Fields wrote a deeply researched paper about the Nazi military during World War II, Weimer said.

‘‘It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler,’’ he said.

Weimer said Fields’s paper was well written but appeared to be a ‘‘big lovefest for the German military and the Waffen SS.’’ The teacher said he unsuccessfully attempted to steer Fields away from his Nazi infatuation.

‘‘When you’re a teacher and you see one of your former students do this, it’s a nightmare scenario,’’ Weimer said. ‘‘This was something that was growing in him. I admit I failed. I tried my best. But this is definitely a teachable moment and something we need to be vigilant about because this stuff is tearing up our country.’’

Fields was charged with one count of second-degree murder in the death of Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville. He also faces three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run attended failure to stop with injury, police said. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer said.

Records show Fields last lived in Maumee, Ohio, about 15 miles southwest of Toledo.

His father was killed by a drunk driver a few months before the boy’s birth, according to an uncle who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

His father left him money that the uncle kept in a trust until Fields reached adult-hood.

‘‘When he turned 18, he demanded his money, and that was the last I had any contact with him,’’ the uncle said.

Fields, he said, grew up mostly in Kentucky, where he had been raised by a single mother who was a paraplegic.

Meanwhile, Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sunday strongly defended the police response to the violent demonstrations, saying that law enforcement authorities had done “great work” in “a very delicate situation.”

McAuliffe said the police estimated that 80 percent of those at the white nationalists’ rally and counterprotests — including members of self-styled militias in camouflage gear — were armed, but no shots were fired.

On Sunday morning, a day after McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, he and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam attended a service at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.

The governor brought the predominantly African-American congregation to its feet as he stood at the pulpit and condemned ‘‘the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who came to our state.’’

‘‘You pretend you’re patriots. You are not patriots. You are dividers,’’ he said.

The city of Charlottesville voted to remove the Lee statue earlier this year, but it remains in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, pending a judge’s ruling expected later this month.

A longtime friend of Heyer, who was white, said that when she was a child she had stood up for people being picked on at school or on the bus. She never feared fighting for what she believed in.

‘‘She died for a reason,’’ said Felicia Correa, who is biracial. ‘‘I don’t see any difference in her or a soldier who died in war. She, in a sense, died for her country. She was there standing up for what was right.’’

The silver Dodge Charger alledgedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr.

Matthew Hatcher/Getty Image

The silver Dodge Charger alledgedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr.

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