Will This Murderous Neo-Nazi's Life Sentence Help The Right Realize That Running Over Protesters Is Not Actually Legal?
The neo-Nazi who murdered Heather Heyer when he drove his car into a crowd of protesters at the Charlottesville Unite The Right rally was sentenced yesterday to life in prison on numerous federal hate crime charges. James Alex Fields will serve this sentence alongside the other life sentences handed down by a Virginia district court for first degree murder, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and a hit-and-run.
The prosecutors in the case decided to drop the charge that could have resulted in a death sentence, but Fields will likely spend the rest of his life inside a prison, which is probably more horrifying than being executed anyway.
Fields, a member of the hate group Vanguard America, pleaded for leniency based on his age and "mental illness."
As someone who feels very about prison abolition and the fact that life sentences such as this should be extremely rare, if handed down at all, I acknowledge that there is definitely some hypocrisy in the fact that I am glad Fields will never be out on the street again in his life. I don't normally think that long prison sentences actually serve as the "deterrent" people claim they are, but in this case, it feels different. It doesn't feel different because I find Fields' beliefs horrifying (though obviously I do), but because I think he truly did not think there was anything wrong with what he did, and I believe that there are a whole lot of other people who were so far gone that they wouldn't have realized that either.
Cutesy memes depicting running over protestors have been extraordinarily popular on the Right for the last few years, both before and after Heyer's murder. In 2017, we covered an incident in which a sheriff's office in Chelan County, Washington shared such a meme, subtitled "All Lives Splatter" on their Facebook page, along with two other incidents of right-wing extremists running over protesters:
This weekend, police in Vancouver, Washington arrested a man attending a far-right "Patriot Prayer" rally for attempting to drive his truck into a crowd of protesters. Luckily, no one was hurt, but not for lack of his trying.
At that same protest, a group of "Proud Boys" drove down the street pepper-spraying protesters, and subsequently crashed into a police vehicle. Very "Blue Lives Matter" of them!
Yeah. They literally just think it is a cute thing to do. They think it's absolutely darling and whimsical and not, you know, murder or attempted murder.
This confidence was perhaps bolstered by the fact that, following the murder of Heather Heyer, several states attempted to introduce legislation making it legal to run over protestors with one's car, and the fact that just last year a Pennsylvania legislator eagerly offered up that he would absolutely run protestors over with his own car should they get in his way. Apparently, it was simply not clear enough that as satisfying as this may feel to creepy, sadistic Republicans who get boners thinking about how manly they would feel driving their cars into a bunch of college kids, it is not actually legal. And not just on a state level, but on a federal level as well.
I hope it is clear now. I hope, for their own sakes and for the sake of pedestrians everywhere, that they now understand that murdering someone with their car because they are mad that person is protesting is a thing that can actually land them in prison for the rest of their lives. Perhaps this will keep the rest of us just a little bit safer.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse