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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Jury awards $ 25 million in compensation for Unite the Right violence

Denise Lavoie | Associated Press

CHARLOTTEESVILLE, Virginia – A jury ordered white nationalist leaders and organizations to pay more than $ 25 million on Tuesday in damages in connection with the violence that erupted during the deadly Unite Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

After nearly a month of civil lawsuits, a jury in a U.S. District Court stumped two key lawsuits, but held white nationalists liable on four other counts in a lawsuit filed by nine people who were physically or emotionally injured during the two days of demonstrations.

Attorney Roberta Kaplan said the plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to resubmit the claim so that the new jury can decide on two claims that the jury could not reach a verdict on. She called the amount of damages awarded under other accounts “eye opening.”

“This is a loud signal,” Kaplan said.

The verdict, while controversial, is a rebuke to the white nationalist movement, especially two dozen individuals and organizations that have been charged with federal lawsuits for organizing violence against African Americans, Jews and others in an elaborate conspiracy.

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer promised to appeal, saying that “the whole theory of this sentence is fundamentally flawed.”

He said that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had made it clear before the court that they wanted to use the case to bankrupt him and the other defendants.

“It was activism through lawsuits and this is absolutely outrageous,” he said. “I’m doing well now, because I kind of put up in my heart with the worst that could happen. I certainly had hope, but I’m not too surprised or depressed. “

Plaintiffs’ lawyers cited a 150-year-old law passed after the Civil War to protect freed slaves from violence and protect their civil rights. This law, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, contains a rarely used provision allowing individuals to sue other citizens for civil rights violations.

Hundreds of white nationalists arrived in Charlottesville for the Unite Right rally on August 11 and 12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to demolish a statue of Confederate General Robert Lee. During a march across the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists chanted “Jews will not replace us,” surrounded the counter-protesters and threw tiki torches at them. The next day, an outspoken admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.

Then-President Donald Trump caused a political storm when he failed to immediately denounce white nationalists, claiming that there were “very good people” on both sides. “

Car driver James Alex Fields Jr. is serving a life sentence for murder and hate crimes. Fields is one of 24 defendants named in a lawsuit funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization formed in response to the Charlottesville violence.

The lawsuit accuses some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists of plotting the violence, including Jason Kessler, the rally’s chief organizer; Spencer, who coined the term “alternative right” to describe a loosely connected group of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and others; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who became known as the “crying Nazi” for posting a tearful video when a warrant was issued for his arrest on assault charges for using pepper spray against counter-demonstrators.

At the trial, there was emotional testimony from people hit by Fields’ car or witnesses to the attacks, as well as plaintiffs who were beaten or subjected to racist ridicule.

Melissa Blair, who was pushed off the road when Fields’ car crashed into the crowd, described the horror of seeing her fiancé bleed to death on the sidewalk and then learned that her friend, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, had been killed.

“I was embarrassed. I was scared. I worried about all the people who were there. It was a real horror scene. There was blood everywhere. I was terrified,” said Blair, who cried several times during her testimony.

During their testimony, some of the defendants used racial epithets and pointedly expressed their support for white supremacy. They also blamed each other and the anti-fascist political movement known as antifa for the violence that erupted that weekend.

Concluding their arguments before the jury, the defendants and their attorneys tried to distance themselves from Fields and stated that the plaintiffs did not prove that they were colluding to commit violence at the rally.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers showed the jury a vast collection of chat messages, text messages and social media posts from the defendants to demonstrate the extent of their pre-rally communication and to try to prove their claim that they planned the violence ahead of time.

“If you want a chance to split multiple Antifa skulls in self-defense, don’t open the carry,” Kessler wrote in a post two months before the rally. “You will scare them and they will just step aside.”

White nationalists argued that there was no conspiracy, and their rowdy conversations before the rally were just rhetoric and protected by the First Amendment.

Before the trial, Judge Norman Moon issued a default verdict against seven other defendants who refused to answer the lawsuit. The court will decide on damages to these defendants.

World Nation News Desk
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