The Department of Justice has opened a federal civil rights hate crime investigation into the violence in Charlottesville, Va. where a white nationalist is facing a murder charge for driving into a crowd, injuring 19 and killing one — and whether other people may have been involved in the attack.
According to a Justice Department official familiar with the investigation, the department is working with its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia to look into not just the driver of the car, but if others were involved in planning the attack.
The FBI is also involved; Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Saturday night he has been in contact with FBI Director Chris Wray and FBI agents on the ground.
A white supremacist rally scheduled for Saturday afternoon turned violent between the rally attendees and leftist counter-protesters, leading to the rally being canceled. The leftist protesters were celebrating that decision when 20-year-old James Alex Fields drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd. He collided with two other vehicles that were stopped in the crowded streets, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
According to the official, Acting U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle, his career staff, and other career staff in the Civil Rights Division are handling the investigation.
Federal hate crime charges have not yet been brought against the driver of the car, the official said, as the Justice Department is still gathering all evidence.
On Saturday night, Sessions condemned the violence in Charlottesville.
"When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated," Sessions said in a statement, adding, "Justice will prevail."
According to the Justice Department, something is deemed a domestic terrorism case when the department has enough evidence to prove the suspect intended to send a message with his crime and harm more than just immediate people at that moment.