Justice Department launches civil rights investigation into Charlottesville violence

The car that allegedly rammed into anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice has opened a federal civil rights investigation into the violence at Saturday's white nationalist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left three dead and dozens wounded.

"The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated." Sessions reported the FBI is already working with state and local law enforcement at the scene.

A central focus of the Justice Department probe will be what eyewitnesses described as a deliberate vehicle attack on a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators. Authorities have arrested James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio on suspicion of ramming his car into pedestrians, killing one, a 32-year-old woman, a paralegal named Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 more. At least 15 other people were wounded, and three other men were arrested on assorted charges related to protest violence.

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The other two deaths connected to the unrest in Charlottesville were state police officers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, killed in a helicopter crash outside the city. The cause of the crash remains undetermined, but foul play is not suspected.

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