More than four years after a white nationalist rally in Virginia turned deadly, jury selection began Monday in the federal civil trial against the organizers and some participants.
The civil lawsuit accuses more than two dozen defendants of conspiring to violate the rights of peaceful counterdemonstrators and commit racially motivated violence against nonwhite and Jewish people during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
The trial is expected to last at least four weeks, according to ABC News.
The lawsuit states that Charlottesville’s violence, suffering, and emotional distress was the direct, planned, and foreseeable consequence of defendants’ illegal conspiracy. All went according to plan.
Continue reading: White supremacist organizations have been crippled by a lawsuit over Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right” rally
This far-right protest was started in reaction to the removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s statue.
Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists – some dressed in what looked like battle gear – marched through the University of Virginia campus wielding tiki torches and shouting racist and antisemitic chants. Violent clashes with counterprotesters broke out while authorities largely stood on the sidelines before police declared an unlawful assembly and forced the crowd to disperse.
James Alex Fields Jr. later drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters. Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed, and nearly three dozen people were injured.
President Donald Trump sparked controversy after the rally when he said “both sides” were to blame for the violence.
Fields was convicted and sentenced for murder. He also pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate-crime charges. The Lee statue that sparked the rally has since been removed.
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The civil lawsuit was filed by community members, some of whom were injured in the car attack, and funded by the nonprofit organization Integrity First for America.
The suit accuses the defendants of using private servers on Discord, an instant messaging platform designed for online gaming, to orchestrate the rally.
Attorneys for the defendants, including extremists Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler and Christopher Cantwell, argued that the online conversations were “lawful event planning,” that they acted in self-defense, and that the rally was protected by the First and Second amendments.
The civil case has moved slowly over the past four years because of the large number of defendants, a lack of cooperation from some of them, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit invokes a post-Civil War federal law from 1871 designed to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from denying Black Americans their civil rights that allows people to sue when they are injured by conspiracies.
This strategy was used by the Southern Poverty Law Center in several cases during the 1980s, 1990s. In 1987, the center’s lawyers won $7 million after a Black teenager was killed, and an Alabama Klan organization was sent into bankruptcy.
In late August, seven officers from the U.S. Capitol Police sued Trump, his longtime adviser Roger Stone and members of far-right extremist groups using the same statue and alleging they conspired to use violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election
The Charlottesville suit already has helped dismantle some of America’s most well-known white supremacist groups, and it has financially crippled Spencer, once leader of the “alt-right,” the white supremacist and nationalist movement that came to prominence under Trump.
Plaintiffs are seeking punitive and compensatory damages. A jury will decide the exact amount. It aims to “ensure that nothing like this will happen again at the hands of Defendants – not on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and not anywhere else in the United States of America.”
Contributing: Will Carless USA Today; The Associated Press