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Trial to start of neo-Nazi man charged with murder at Charlottesville rally

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This AFP file police booking photograph obtained August 13, 2017 shows suspect James Fields.

A US neo-Nazi man is set to go on trial for murder after allegedly ramming his car into counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and underscoring the rising racial tensions in the US under President Donald Trump.

James Fields, 21, who is due to go on trial on Monday, was among hundreds of white nationalists who attended the “Unite the Right” rally on August 12, 2017, where prosecutors say he plowed his car into people protesting the event, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others.

According to court documents, the jury trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court is scheduled to last 18 days, through December 13.

Fields has been indicted by state prosecutors in Virginia with 10 criminal charges. The US Department of Justice has also indicted Fields separately on 30 federal hate crimes charges.

If Fields is convicted, he could face the death penalty.

A resident of Ohio, Fields routinely promoted racist ideologies on his social media accounts, including expressing support for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, according to federal prosecutors.

He had traveled to Charlottesville last year to join other white nationalists in protesting against the city’s removal of a statue honoring a commander of the Confederate Army, the losing side of the US Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865 for the preservation of the slavery of African Americans.

The protest saw hundreds of neo-Nazi sympathizers, accompanied by rifle-carrying men, yelling white nationalist slogans and wielding flaming torches in scenes eerily reminiscent of racist rallies held in the US South before the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

After the rally, Trump faced intense criticism when he seemed to equate the white nationalists with the counter-protesters, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Some analysts say the current political climate in the US, as well as Trump’s "xenophobic rhetoric and racist policies" have had a major impact on the rise of right-wing extremists in the country.

The number of attacks carried out by white supremacists and right-wing extremists in the United States has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a report released in early November.

The report, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, found that right-wing attacks doubled in the US from 2016 to 2017.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also released statistics in November showing a dramatic rise in hate crimes for the third consecutive year in 2017.

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