Denise LaVoie and Michael Kunzelman | Associated Press
RICHMOND, Virginia. – Nine people who sued leaders and white nationalist organizations over violence during the deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017 were sentenced to $ 26 million for their injuries and injuries. But it remains to be seen whether they will be able to raise a significant portion of this money.
Many defendants are in jail, in hiding, or have quit the white nationalist movement. At least three of the far-right extremist groups identified by the defendants have been disbanded. And most of the defendants say they will never have the money they need to pay for the judgments handed down against them.
“I have no assets. I have no property. You can’t get blood out of stone, ”said Matthew Heimbach, who co-founded the far-right Traditionalist Labor Party with fellow accused Matthew Parrott. Their neo-Nazi group disbanded after Heimbach’s arrest in 2018 on charges of assaulting his wife’s stepfather Parrott. According to court documents, the men disputed about Heimbach’s alleged connection with Parrot’s wife.
Heimbach said he is a single father to two young sons, works in a factory and lives paycheck to paycheck. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers who sued him “just spent $ 20 million to try and play Whac-A-Mole with public figures.”
A few months before the trial, Richard Spencer, one of the country’s most prominent white nationalists, told the judge that his notoriety prevented him from raising money to defend himself against a lawsuit that was “financially damaging.” He said the case was “extremely expensive” and a “huge burden” for him.
Spencer popularized the term “alternative right” to describe a loosely coupled marginal movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extreme right-wing extremists. After the verdict was announced on Tuesday, Spencer said that he now views the alternative right as “a completely dysfunctional institution with dysfunctional people” and claims that he was disgusted “over a lot of it.”
The whereabouts of the two defendants, Andrew Anglin and Robert “Azmador” Ray, are unknown.
Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, did not pay any portion of the August 2019 sentence for organizing an anti-Semitic campaign to target the Jewish family of a Montana real estate agent. A federal judge ruled by default against Anglin after he failed to appear to testify. Lawyers for other plaintiffs, including those involved in the Charlottesville civil case, also secured a default judgment against Anglin.
In September 2020, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon issued an arrest warrant for Ray, a neo-Nazi podcaster who wrote for Anglin’s website. Moon agreed to charge Ray with contempt for his “complete disregard” of court orders in the lawsuit.
Even with many obstacles to collecting the full $ 26 million judgment, there are ways to secure at least some of them. Typically, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek a court order to seize assets, collect wages, and seize property belonging to the defendants.
Some of the defendants’ lawyers said they would try to reduce the amount of compensation.
Lawyer James Kolenich, who represented three of the defendants, including James Kessler, the main organizer of the rally, said that while some of the white nationalist organizations have certain assets: “I don’t think any of them could afford to pay out of their pocket this damage. … “
“We will do our best to reduce this number,” he said.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernadino, said lawyers for the plaintiffs may be able to recover some of the damages due to the large number of defendants named in the lawsuit. The jury handed down a verdict of $ 26 million against 17 defendants; before the start of the trial, the judge handed down sentences against seven more accused.
“The peculiarity of this case is that you have a wide range of accused. Some of them are currently locked up or in poverty, but they may have assets, (insurance) policies or real estate that can be returned, ”Levin said.
Amy Spitalnik, chief executive of Integrity First for America, the civil rights nonprofit that funded the lawsuit, said the group “is committed to ensuring that our plaintiffs can recover these judgments and see the full accountability they deserve.”
Many of the racists who endorsed the alternative right brand for their ideology of white supremacy have largely disappeared from public forums following the Charlottesville bloodshed. The movement began to disintegrate amid a flurry of litigation and clashes between leaders.
Two defendants are in prison.
James Alex Fields Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for murder and hate crimes after being convicted of deliberately driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on the second day of demonstrations in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of a woman.
Christopher Cantwell, host of the Live Radical Agenda talk show, was convicted of extortion in September 2020 and sentenced to nearly 3.5 years in prison for threatening to rape the wife of a man he believed was stalking him.
Many of the defendants have been kicked out of mainstream social media. Some have chosen to remain in the shadows since the days of Charlottesville. Rally organizer Elliot Kline, also known as Eli Mosley, disappeared from the alternative right after the New York Times uncovered evidence that he had lied about his military service.
Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Extremism Center, said the jury’s verdict makes it clear that incitement to hatred and violence will have repercussions. ADL provided financial support to Integrity First for America in this case.
“In that case, accountability cannot be underestimated,” Segal said.
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.