Man Who Killed Charlottesville Protester Sentenced to Life in Prison

During the hearing, a high school classmate of James Alex Fields Jr. said he was 'like a kid at Disneyworld' during their trip to Dachau concentration camp

Mugshot of James Alex Fields Jr. who was convicted in a deadly car attack on a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., undated.
Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail / AP

An avowed white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters during a white nationalist rally in Virginia has been sentenced to life in prison on hate crime charges.

James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, was sentenced Friday after pleading guilty in March to federal hate crime charges in an attack that killed one person and injured more than two dozen others.

He will be sentenced next month on separate state charges.

During the sentence hearing, prosecutors told a judge that Fields was "like a kid at Disney World" during his high school trip to a German concentration camp.

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FBI Special Agent Wade Douthit read grand jury testimony Friday from a high school classmate of James Alex Fields Jr. The classmate said Fields appeared happy when touring the Dachau camp and remarked, "This is where the magic happened."

The statement provoked audible gasps from a packed courtroom crowd that included dozens of people who were injured and the mother of a woman who was killed when Fields deliberately drove his car into a group of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in 2017.

The rally proved a critical moment in the rise of the "alt-right," a loose alignment of fringe groups centered on white nationalism and emboldened by President Donald Trump's 2016 election. 

Trump was criticized from the left and right for initially saying there were "fine people on both sides" of the dispute between neo-Nazis and their opponents at the rally. Subsequent alt-right gatherings failed to draw crowds the size of the Charlottesville rally. 

FILE Photo: White nationalist demonstrators clash with a counter demonstrator as he throws a newspaper box at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.
Steve Helber/AP

Ahead of Friday's sentencing hearing, prosecutors noted that Fields had long espoused violent beliefs and less than a month before the attack posted an image on Instagram showing a car plowing through a crowd of people captioned: "you have the right to protest but I'm late for work." 

Even after the attack, Fields remained unrepentant, prosecutors said, noting that in a December 7, 2017, phone call from jail with his mother, he blasted Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, for her activism after the attack. 

"She is a communist. An anti-white liberal," Fields said, according to court papers filed by prosecutors. He rejected his mother's plea to consider that the woman had "lost her daughter," replying, "She's the enemy." 

Fields pleaded guilty in March under a deal with prosecutors who agreed not to seek the death penalty. 

Fields was photographed hours before the attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group. He has identified himself as a neo-Nazi. 

Fields' attorneys suggested he felt intimidated and acted to protect himself. They asked a judge only to sentence him to less than life in prison, without specifying a term, seeking mercy citing his relative youth and history of mental health diagnoses. 

Fields already faces life in prison at his state court sentencing next month after being found guilty by a jury of murdering Heyer and wounding others.