A jury has awarded more than $25m in damages against white nationalist leaders for violence during a deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville.
The defendants were charged with promoting and then perpetrating racially motivated violence during the “Unite the Right” rally. After nearly a month of civil trials, a jury in the US District Court in Charlottesville settled the two claims, but the trial found white nationalists liable in four other counts, filed by nine men, who had to wait two days. There were physical or emotional injuries suffered during the demonstrations. ,
Attorney Roberta Kaplan said the plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to rehearse the trial so that a new jury can decide on two claims on which this jury could not reach a verdict. She called the amount of damages awarded from other calculations “eye-opener”.
“It sends a loud message,” Kaplan said.
The verdict, though mixed, is a rebuke for the white nationalist movement, particularly the two dozen individuals and organizations that have been accused in a federal trial of committing violence against African Americans, Jews and others in a carefully planned conspiracy. had gone.
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer vowed to appeal. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers had made it clear before the trial that they wanted to use the case to bankrupt him and the other defendants.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs invoked a 150-year-old law passed after the Civil War to free slaves from violence and protect their civil rights. Commonly referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Act, is a rarely used provision in law that allows private citizens to sue other citizens for civil rights violations.
On 11–12 August 2017, hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, apparently to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
During a march on the grounds of the University of Virginia, white nationalists surrounded opponents, shouting, “Jews will not take our place!” and threw burning torches at them. The next day, a famous admirer of Adolf Hitler deliberately pushed his car into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19.
Then-President Donald Trump touched a political firestorm when he failed to immediately condemn white nationalists, saying there were “very good people on both sides”.
James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving a life sentence in prison for murder and hate crimes for car attack. He is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Fields is one of 24 defendants named in a lawsuit funded by Integrity First for America, a non-profit civil rights organization formed in response to the violence in Charlottesville.
The trial accused some of the country’s most famous white nationalists of plotting violence, including the rally’s main organizer Jason Kessler; Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely associated band of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and others; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist known as a “crying Nazi” after posting a tearful video to counter protesters with a warrant for his arrest for using pepper spray Was.
The trial featured emotional testimony from people who were hit by Fields’ car or attacked, as well as plaintiffs who were beaten up or subjected to racist taunts.
Melissa Blair, who was driven out of the way as Fields’ car slammed into a crowd, saw her fiancée bleeding profusely on the sidewalk and later learned that her friend, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, had been killed.
“I was confused. I was scared. I was worried about everyone who was there. It was a complete terror scene. There was blood everywhere. I was terrified,” said Blair, during her testimony. She shed tears many times.
During their testimony, some of the defendants used racist adjectives and expressed their support for white supremacy. They also blamed each other and the anti-fascist political movement known as Antifa for the violence that broke out that weekend.
Closing their arguments to the jury, the defendants and their lawyers tried to distance themselves from Fields, saying that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had conspired to commit violence at the rally.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs showed a vast collection of chat room exchanges, text messages and social media postings by the defendants to demonstrate the extent of their communications before rallying the jury and attempting to substantiate their claims that they had already committed violence. had planned.
“If you want a chance to crack some Antifa skulls in self-defense, don’t go open carry,” Kessler wrote in a message about two months before the rally. “You’ll scare the shit out of them and they’ll just stand on the sidelines.”
White nationalists said there was no conspiracy, and their sly talk before the rally was just rhetoric and is protected by the First Amendment.
Prior to the trial, Judge Norman Moon issued default judgments against an additional seven defendants who declined to respond to the lawsuit. The court will decide damages against those defendants.