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Charlottesville Driver Who Rammed Crowd Washed Out of Army

  • People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP
    People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP
  • In this handout provided by Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, James Alex Fields Jr. poses for a mugshot after he allegedly drove into counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville.
    In this handout provided by Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, James Alex Fields Jr. poses for a mugshot after he allegedly drove into counter-protesters on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville.

The driver accused of ramming his vehicle into a crowd in Charlottesville on Saturday served a brief stint in the U.S. Army but ultimately washed out.

James Alex Fields Jr., the 20-year-old from Ohio who was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and critically injuring several others in the incident, served on active duty for about four months from August to December 2015, according to an emailed statement from William Sharp, a public affairs officer for the service at the Pentagon.

"The Army can confirm that James Alex Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015," Sharp said. "He was, however, released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015. As a result, he was never awarded a military occupational skill nor was he assigned to a unit outside of basic training."

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Video of the incident in Charlottesville circulated on social media, and Ryan Kelly, a photographer for The Daily Progress, snapped an iconic photograph that shows a gray Challenger plowing into a crowd of people, throwing victims into the air.

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In addition to the fatality, 19 others were injured, several critically.

Just hours after Fields drove into the crowd, a state police helicopter that was providing surveillance to the rally crashed, killing troopers Jay Cullen and Berke Bates.

The incident in Charlottesville started when white nationalists gathered Friday for a "Unite the Right" rally to protest the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee -- a memorial that in 2015 was vandalized with the words, "Black Lives Matter."

Another group of counter-protesters held their own rally Saturday and marched while holding signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "Love."

In addition to second-degree murder, Fields is charged with three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in a death, The New York Times reported.

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the attack could be defined as domestic terrorism but legally is a criminal act.

"I certainly think any time that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism," he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" news talk show. "It meets the definition of terrorism."

McMaster added, "But what this is, what you see here, is you see someone who is a criminal, who is committing a criminal act, against fellow Americans. A criminal act that may have been motivated, and we'll see what the -- what's turned up in this investigation, by this hatred and bigotry, which I mentioned we have to extinguish in our nation."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said he has opened a federal investigation into the racially charged case, which he described as an "evil attack" and domestic terrorism.

John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Saturday released an impassioned statement about the matter.

"Our Founders fought a revolution for the idea that all men are created equal. The heirs of that revolution fought a Civil War to save our nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to that revolutionary proposition," he said. "Nothing less is at stake on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, where a violent attack has taken at least one American life and injured many others in a confrontation between our better angels and our worst demons."

McCain added, "White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special. As we mourn the tragedy that has occurred in Charlottesville, American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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