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'We are unbreakable': Charlottesville survivors applaud guilty verdict

Survivors of a fatal vehicle attack during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, made a triumphant return to the scene of the incident on Friday, after their attacker was found guilty of murder.

“We are here to reclaim this street,” said Jean Peterson, who was seriously injured. “He tried to break us. We are unbreakable. Our bodies are healing and our souls are stronger than ever.”

The group chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they made their way from the scene of the attack.

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After deliberating for seven hours, a jury convicted James Fields, 21, of first-degree murder and nine lesser charges, for driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens more.

Prosecutors said Fields, who espoused white supremacist beliefs and took part in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, had hate and violence on his mind when he drove his car into the crowd.

Wednesday Bowie, a counter-protester who suffered a broken pelvis and fractured vertebrae in the attack, was one of several victims who testified during the trial. She applauded the verdict.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a year and a half,” she said outside the courtroom, BuzzFeed News reported.

Fields faces 20 years to life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday. He also faces federal hate crime charges which could carry the death penalty. Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer, said he did not want Fields to be sentenced to death.

A man walks past a memorial to Heather Heyer and the victims of the car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia on 26 November.

A man walks past a memorial to Heather Heyer and the victims of the car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia on 26 November. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors extremist groups, celebrated the verdict.

“The Charlottesville jury has held James Alex Fields Jr criminally responsible for the death of Heather Heyer and the lives he shattered in 2017, but President Trump bears a measure of moral responsibility,” the SPLC said in a statement.

“Had he not energized the radical right, the horrific events in Charlottesville never would have occurred. He should apologize to Heather Heyer’s family and to all those who were injured for the hate that he unleashed.”

The clashes stirred tensions across the country after Trump said “both sides” were to blame and claimed there were “very fine people” among both the white supremacists and their opponents.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, applauded Friday’s verdict, saying Fields’ actions served as a “devastating reminder of the consequences of unchecked hate”.

“This verdict sends a strong message to others that hate has no place in our society,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “We hope Fields will also be found guilty of federal hate crimes.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said the verdict was “an indication that hate will not stand in this country”.

“It’s hard to believe that in this day and age we are still plagued by such violence and race-based hatred,” it said.

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