James Fields walked into the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, on a school trip two years ago and told a classmate he was “where the magic happened.”
The account was one of several describing Fields’ white supremacist views that emerged in telephone and Facebook interviews on Monday, two days after his arrest on a murder charge for ramming his car into a group of people objecting to neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Several students who attended Randall K. Cooper High School with Fields in Union, Kentucky, recalled him as an angry young man who spoke admiringly about the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.
Fields’ court-appointed lawyer, Charles “Buddy” Weber, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Fields, 20, made a brief court appearance via video link on Monday. A judge denied bail for Fields, accused of killing one woman and injuring at least 19 other people on Saturday.
During the June 2015 school trip, Fields spat on a Russian war memorial in Germany and refused to shower because he did not want to use what he called “that dirty pig water,” according to a former classmate who has known Fields since childhood.
At Dachau, Fields looked like “a kid at an amusement park,” said the classmate, who asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted.
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“He would read excerpts from Mein Kampf, and listen to Nazi propaganda music at night,” the classmate told Reuters.
Another former high school classmate, Morgan Stidham, said she did not know Fields well and never saw him doing anything violent.
“I only overheard him talking about things like Nazi stuff and how amazing Hitler was,” Stidham said.
Caleb Orndorff, who went to the same high school and who is black, said he and his brother once got into a verbal confrontation with Fields and that Fields called them a racial slur in response.
Fields displayed an unusual fascination with Hitler, his former history teacher, Derek Weimer, told several news outlets.
“My first feeling: I failed, we failed,” Weimer told the Toledo Blade newspaper after learning of the charge against Fields.
White nationalist groups gathered in the Southern college town of Charlottesville on Saturday in a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate army commander General Robert E. Lee from a park.
Fields was among several rally participants whose pictures were shown on social media. The Anti-Defamation League posted a picture on Twitter that appeared to show Fields carrying a shield affiliated with Vanguard America, a white nationalist group. In a statement, the group denied that Fields was a member.
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Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, said he told her he was attending a rally but did not describe it in detail, according to the Blade.
“I thought it had something to do with Trump,” she told the newspaper. “I try to stay out of his political views.”
Soon after graduating high school in 2015, Fields joined the U.S. Army but left by December after failing to meet training standards, the Army said in a statement.
Fields and his mother, who is confined to a wheelchair, moved from northern Kentucky to the town of Maumee in northwestern Ohio about a year ago for her job, according to the Blade. Fields began living in his own apartment several months ago and traveled to Virginia for Saturday’s rally.
Fields’ father was killed by a drunk driver months before his birth, the Washington Post reported, citing an unidentified uncle.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Taylor Harris in New York and Scott Malone in Charlottesville, Va.; Writing by Joseph Ax; editing by Grant McCool)