CHARLOTTESVILLE — Years before a 20-year-old Ohio man allegedly rammed his car into a panicked crowd of activists in Charlottesville, it was his disabled mother who was terrified.
James Alex Fields Jr. was barely a teenager in 2010 when his mother — who uses a wheelchair — locked herself in a bathroom, called 911 and said her son had struck her head and put his hands over her mouth when she told him to stop playing a video game, according to police records. On another occasion, records show, he brandished a 12-inch knife. Once, he spit in her face.
“Mom is scared he is going to become violent here,” a dispatcher wrote in a log of the November 2011 call in which Fields’s mother, Samantha Bloom, requested police help in getting her son to a hospital for assessment.
The portrait of a violent teen emerged as Fields was denied bail Monday during his first court appearance in connection with the Charlottesville attack that killed one and injured 19 others when a Dodge Challenger plowed into a mass of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally Saturday. He is charged with second-degree murder, hit and run and three counts of malicious wounding.
Prosecutors did not detail the evidence against Fields, who appeared via a video link from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Fields came to Virginia to attend the rally, according to Bloom, who spoke to reporters over the weekend.
Fields replied, “No, sir,” when asked in court whether he has any ties to the Charlottesville community.
The college town, along with the nation, continued to grapple with the violence that took three lives, including two Virginia state troopers who were killed when their helicopter crashed in woods not far from Charlottesville. Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, was killed when Fields barreled toward her and other counterprotesters “at a high rate of speed,” police said.
A few hours after the court hearing, President Trump responded to growing criticism about his initial response to the violence by singling out the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists as “criminals and thugs . . . that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Earlier on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in television appearances that the violence met the definition of domestic terrorism. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said that his department responded to 250 calls on Saturday and that officers were still taking reports of assault from the weekend.
Thomas defended his department’s handling of the explosive convergence of white nationalists from around the country and hundreds of counterprotesters. Both sides have criticized the failure of officers to keep the sides apart, but Thomas said officers coped as well as they could with protesters, who were determined to cause trouble despite agreements worked out in advance.
“We worked out a plan to bring the groups in,” Thomas said at a news conference. “They changed the plan and entered the park in different directions.”
Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right, which calls for a form of American apartheid, told reporters Monday that his group would “one hundred percent” return to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. He also held his followers blameless in the Charlottesville melee.
Speaking in his Alexandria office after two Washington hotels canceled his reservations, Spencer said that blame for the deadly attack fell on authorities who he said failed to keep order.
“Mayor Mike Signer and Governor Terry McAuliffe have blood on their hands,” he said. “Their job is to keep order. They kept chaos.”
Spencer also refused to condemn Fields, claiming that he had seen video footage of Fields’s car being attacked by someone with a baseball bat.
“I’m not going to condemn this young man at this point,” he said. “This man could have lost control because he felt in danger and slammed on the accelerator and unintentionally killed someone.”
Spencer also dismissed Trump’s condemnation of white supremacists as “hollow and vapid . . . kumbaya nonsense.”
“I don’t think anyone takes it seriously, including the president,” he said.
At his appearance before Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. in Charlottesville General District Court, Fields said he could not afford an attorney and was appointed one by the court.
Fields, who served a four-month stint in the Army in 2015, worked for about two years as a security guard in Ohio, earning $10.50 an hour and taking home about $650 every two weeks, according to income information filed with the court.
The judge informed Fields that he could not be defended by the Charlottesville public defender’s office because a relative of someone who works for the office was involved in Saturday’s incident. He did not specify whether that meant the protests or the crash.
“I’m going to make a decision that you could not have a bond until you see your attorney,” the judge said in appointing Charles L. Weber Jr. to represent Fields.
Downer set Aug. 25, at 11 a.m., as the next court date to consider scheduling of a preliminary hearing.
The judge asked Fields whether he understood everything that had taken place, and Fields responded, “Yes, sir.”
The city’s decision this year to change the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park and to order the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the park has made it a lightning rod for white nationalists and extremists who see the moves as an attempt to erase white history.
Weber, Fields’s court-appointed attorney, is one of a dozen plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to stop the removal of the Lee statue.
The lawsuit, filed on March 20, describes Weber as a Vietnam fighter pilot with “a special interest in the protection and preservation of war memorials and monuments located in the City, including those of Generals Lee and Jackson.”
Those who wish to defend the statues had “no recourse but to proceed in a court of law,” he told The Washington Post when the suit was filed.
Weber did not return repeated calls on Monday.
The 911 records indicating Fields’s teenage outbursts, first reported by the website TMZ, cover police calls made while Fields and his mother lived in Florence, Ky., about 20 minutes southwest of Cincinnati. In the past year, they moved near Toledo. The records seem to indicate that he was arrested and held in juvenile detention after the November 2011 call.
In the 2010 call, Bloom reported that her son had struck her in the head and threatened to beat her after she told him to stop playing video games. Bloom said her son was taking medication to control his temper and told authorities that she was locked in the bathroom.
In October of the following year, Bloom called 911 to say that her son was “being very threatening toward her” and that she didn’t feel “in control of the situation,” according to a dispatcher’s notes.
And in November 2011, police were asked to come to the house because Bloom was said to want her son to be assessed at a hospital, according to the records. He had spat in her face, said the caller, whose connection to the family is not clear in the records.
The previous night, Fields had stood behind his mother with a 12-inch knife, the caller reported.
“Scared mom to death not knowing if he was going to do something,” the dispatcher’s report continued.
In Charlottesville on Monday, the late-summer rhythms of the college town began to reassert themselves. Parents helped students move into dorms and apartments ahead of the first day of classes at the University of Virginia next week. In places, it almost seemed as if the violence that shook the country had never happened.
Pedestrians made their way silently to one of two impromptu memorials for Heyer.
But at the center of it all, leaning against the controversial statue of the Confederate general, stood a reminder of all that had changed.
A hand-lettered sign read “Heyer Memorial Park” — an informal name change for a contested space.
Gillum, Miller and Hendrix reported from Washington. Joe Heim in Charlottesville, Justin Wm. Moyer in Washington and James Higdon in Florence, Ky., contributed to this report.