A man accused of ramming a car into a crowd of activists protesting a white supremacist rally in the US state of Virginia, had long sympathised with the Nazis, his former school teacher said.
One person was killed after the car mowed down a group of protesters in Charlottesville city on Saturday while the two other victims, Virginia State Police Department officers, died when a helicopter crashed nearby.
The alleged driver, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old who travelled to Virginia from Ohio, had espoused extremist ideals since high school, the Washington Post quoted the suspect’s former history teacher Derek Weimer as saying.
“It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler,” the teacher said. “He had white supremacist views. He really believed in that stuff.”
Fields also wrote a deeply researched paper about the Nazi military during the Second World War, Weimer said.
It appeared to be a “big lovefest for the German military and the Waffen-SS (armed wing of the Schutzstaffel paramilitary group)”, Weimer said.
The events on Saturday took place after hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members carrying torches held a rally in Charlottesville on Friday, to protest the planned removal of a statue memorialising Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
As they waved Confederate flags and screamed racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs, the protesters — almost all white and male — were met with fierce resistance from activists who had come to stop them.
Fields, now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation, was arrested shortly after the incident.
He has been accused of killing Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, the Post reported.
He is charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death. Fields is scheduled for an arraignment on Monday.
He had joined the Army in 2015 but was on active duty for less than four months, according to online records from the Defence Department.
President Donald Trump condemned the violence, but did not specifically mention white nationalists, neo-Nazis, or their views, instead criticising hatred and violence “on many sides”.
Trump received sharp criticism, even from members of his own party, for failing to directly condemn white supremacists. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke condemned Trump’s statement.