Police have charged a 20-year-old man with murder after a suspected “terror attack” where a car drove into a crowd protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The alleged driver, James Alex Fields Jr, was charged with killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, three counts of malicious wounding, one count of failure to stop for an accident involving death and one related to leaving the scene.
Fields was photographed hours earlier carrying the emblem of one of the hate groups that organised the “take America back” campaign.
Vanguard America denied on Sunday any association with the suspect.
The attack on Saturday (local time) has been condemned from both sides of the political spectrum, with Democrats and Republicans calling the incident an act of terrorism.
In the aftermath, former president Barack Obama and Republican senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz condemned the white nationalist movement, with Senator Cruz labelling the attack a “grotesque act of domestic terrorism”.
“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate,” Senator Cruz wrote on Facebook.
“Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”
Warning: Graphic footage
Senator Rubio echoed the sentiment, calling for President Donald Trump to condemn the incident for what it was.
“Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” he tweeted.
Senator Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, also labelled the attack “domestic terror” and called for it to be “condemned”.
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) August 12, 2017
“Otherwise hate is simply emboldened,” he said.
Mr Obama weighed into the matter, reciting a famous quote from the late South African President Nelson Mandela that no one is born to hate.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion…” he tweeted.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…" pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
The horrific incident came after 24 hours of protests and counter-protests prompted by the city council’s decision to change the name of Robert E. Lee Park and remove a statue of the Confederate military commander.
The night before several hundred torch-bearing white nationalists marched brazenly through the centre of the college town.
But by Saturday morning, opposition protesters had arrived in Charlottesville as sporadic violence erupted all over town.
The white nationalists, many carrying heavy sticks and homemade shields, were pelted with rocks and bottles, with fist fights breaking out as Black Lives Matter activists and other social justice groups tried to seize Confederate flags.
The march fatally escalated on Saturday afternoon when a grey Dodge Challenger sped down a narrow street into the heart of anti-racism protesters, injuring at least 26 people and killing another.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and sent in the National Guard in response.
“I have a message to the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” Mr McAuliffe said at a press conference.
“Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but patriots.”
It was the latest in a string of confrontations in Charlottesville since the city voted earlier this year to remove the statue.
In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a night-time protest.
In July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.
– with ABC and AP