HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and leaders of political and faith groups across the state Monday urged a full investigation into what role, if any, white supremacists may have played in the death of a woman during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
While Attorney General Jeff Sessions has labeled the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer in Charlottesville a hate crime, Blumenthal said he has not adequately acknowledged the role that white supremacist groups played in fomenting and facilitating the terror attack.
“Sessions has said that the killer of Heather Heyer will be brought to justice,” Blumenthal said during a press conference in front of the United States District Court in Hartford.
But, Blumenthal added, the investigation “must focus on more than just one individual. It has to include all the hate groups and individuals who may have aided and abetted or colluded and conspired with that man behind the wheel.
“There was one person behind the wheel but hate groups may have well encouraged or assisted him. That kind of conspiracy is a violation of federal law,” Blumenthal said.
If a conspiracy is found, Blumenthal said, then what happened in Charlottesville is a case of “domestic terrorism.”
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene after he allegedly plowed into the counter-protesters, killing Heyer and and injuring 19 others Aug. 14.
The incident took place as hundreds of white nationalists and other right-wing groups converged on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Fields was among the many white nationalist protesters who clashed with counter protesters.
Blumenthal said if an investigation into what happened at Charlottesville deemed it a criminal conspiracy, that would enable the U.S. Department of Justice to deploy a series of strong tools provided by the USA Patriot Act to combat active domestic terror groups, including seizure of resources, surveillance, and access to top counterterrorism expertise.
If conspiracy is determined, Blumenthal added: “The full weight of federal resources should be brought to bear on the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists” involved.
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said he found Blumenthal’s press conference a little perplexing, because Sessions is already on record as stating he is promising a full-fledged investigation.
“I support what Jeff Sessions has said,” Romano said. “I agree with Sessions that this is a possible hate crime. That is what he (Sessions) said he would be looking into — and he is.”
One of the local leaders who spoke at the Blumenthal press conference was Imam Abdul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari, Greater Hartford NAACP President.
“We stand strong with our brothers and sisters in Charlottesville and across the nation who are gathering, marching, and singing for peace,” Ansari said. “This is a call to action for the American people. Activists, religious organizations, white evangelicals and all allies who continue to work together to root out hatred and bigotry wherever it exists.”
Also at the press conference was Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut Council on American Islamic Relations.
“We condemn the hate and the acts of violence and acts of terrorism” that were so freely on display in Charlottesville, Dhaouadi said. Like Blumenthal, Dhaouadi said the federal government should fully investigate the actions of the groups involved and what if any roles those actions played in any deaths or injuries.”
Dhaouadi added that Connecticut, thankfully, has not seen the type of white supremacist activity that has sprung up in other parts of country. He thanked Blumenthal and other political leaders in the state for their outspoken commentary against bigotry.
Michael Bloom, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Connecticut, also spoke at the press conference of the intensity of anti-Semitic behavior at the Charlottesville rally.
“The Jewish community has seen the world vision that the Nazis and KKK want. We will not stand silent and allow this to happen again,” Bloom said.
Blumenthal said he will also call on the Senate to act on legislation he has authored to strengthen federal laws to combat hate speech, threats, and attacks, including expanded reporting and assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes.
“Silence is not golden,” Blumenthal said. “Hate groups must be condemned morally.”