One defendant compared himself to Jesus. Another ranted and showed videos of protesters chanting, “White lives matter.” A lawyer played a five-minute neo-Nazi propaganda video in his closing argument.
The last day at the U.S. district judge Norman Moon’s landmark civil trial regarding the unrest surrounding the Charlottesville rally of Unite The Right was wild. Nine plaintiffs were injured at the rally and are seeking millions of dollars in damages. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say their goal is to financially cripple the defendants, a who’s who of the American racist right, and ensure nothing like Charlottesville ever happens again.
That weekend in August 2017, clean-cut white men marched with lit tiki torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” White supremacists clashed with counter-protesters, causing riots. Neo-Nazi James Fields drove his car into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer. Fields was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The lawsuit claims the defendants, two dozen prominent white supremacist leaders and neo-Nazi organizations, engaged in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence against nonwhite and Jewish people in Charlottesville. For the last month, plaintiff’s attorneys have presented evidence, including hundreds of thousands of leaked, secret communications from the messaging platform Discord and text messages between the rally organizers, to show the violence that weekendPremeditated, planned and celebrated.
White supremacists financially crippling:Leaders of white supremacist organizations have been crippled by a lawsuit over Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right” rally.
The police are blamed by the defendants for their violenceCharlottesville, Virginia civil trial defendants blame police for the violence during the 2017 Unite the Right rally
Amy Spitalnick (executive director, Integrity First for America), a non-profit civil right organization, stated that the case has progressed as planned.
“Our plaintiffs have provided overwhelming evidence that Unite the Right was never intended to be a peaceful protest – rather, it was a meticulously planned weekend of racist, antisemitic violence,” Spitalnick said. “We’re incredibly proud to support these courageous plaintiffs as they seek much-needed accountability and justice.”
An array of defenses
A patchwork of defenses has been offered by white supremacists.
Some have argued that they weren’t involved with the planning of the rally at all. Some claim they first met in Charlottesville. Richard Spencer, a former leader of “alt-right,” a white supremacist/nationalist movement, as well as Christopher Cantwell, a neoNazi Podcaster, tried to make the trial a referendum about free speech in America.
Moon quickly rebuffed those extravagant arguments on Thursday. Moon reprimanded the defendants and told them to stay focused on the facts and to not ramble about possible consequences.
Moon was unable to stop defendants turning their trial into an advertisement for hateful views and personal brand. Cantwell, who is perhaps most famous for weeping uncontrollably in YouTube videos, has sought to portray himself as a martyr for the First Amendment. Spencer has made lofty speeches while dropping hints that he sees himself a reasonable adult in a room full of hate-filled children.
Defendants have openly used the N-word in court, made racist and antisemitic jokes and spoken at length about their admiration of Adolf Hitler.
Neo-Nazi propaganda video filmed in court
Showboating reached an unusual nadir on Thursday afternoon, when Joshua Smith, an attorney of the now-defunct white extremist group the Traditionalist Workers Party played a video about white supremacist recruiting at the close to his closing statement.
It was neoNazi propaganda filled with hateful conspiracy theories and debunked facts about Jews. But everyone in the courtroom and hundreds of people listening via a conference call had to sit through it, eliciting Reactions shockedSocial media From journalists and others following the case.
After Spencer compared himself with Jesus, the judge cut Spencer off.
“What got him executed? What made him the object of hatred?” Spencer said of Jesus. Moon interjected, saying, “I don’t know where you’re going with this.”
“You can’t cut me off,” Spencer pleaded.
“When you get out of line, I have to,” Moon responded.
Plantiff’s lawyer: An elaborate conspiracy to break skulls
Karen Dunn and Roberta Kaplan were the co-lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. She told the jury that conspiracy is a legal construct, one with a clear definition and parameters.
Dunn explained that conspirators don’t have to be only trying to do illegal acts. The rally was permitted and legal, she said, but the defendants’ communications showed they were planning on more than just raising their voices.
Addressing each defense in turn, Dunn noted that attendees need not have known one another beforehand in order to be engaged in a conspiracy. She said it’s not legally necessary for the conspirators to have foreseen that a specific illegal act would happen.
However, it is clear that the Charlottesville defendants planned the rally’s outcome in advance.Dunn stated as much.
“This was not about a little fistfight, a little scuffle,” Dunn said. “This was about raising an army for the cracking of skulls.”
The plaintiffs – a minister, students and other Charlottesville residents – have won default judgments against seven of the 24 defendants, with the penalties to be decided by the jury. Three other defendants were penalized by the court with five-figure fines. They failed to appear for depositions or produce evidence.
Friday will see the jury convene to start deliberations.