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Unite the Right white nationalist rally organizers were found liable on a state conspiracy claim for the injuries sustained by counter-protesters and ordered to pay approximately $26 million in damages by a federal jury in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The plaintiffs suffered emotional and physical trauma at the rally, including four who were struck when James Fields, a neo-Nazi, rammed his car into a counter-protesters crowd, killing the 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
According to court filings, the jury in the federal civil trial found in favor of the victims on four of six counts. Still, it could not come to a unanimous verdict on the other two federal conspiracy claims.
One of the defense lawyers, Joshua Smith, told reporters that despite the jury’s inability to draw up a consensus on two federal conspiracy counts, it was still considered a victory considering the disparity in resources between the defendants’ and plaintiffs’ legal terms. Among the defendants in the case are the most prominent figures like Matthew Heimbach, Jason Kessler, Christopher Cantwell, and Richard Spence.
Hundreds of white nationalists traveled to Charlottesville in August 2017 to protest over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate. General Robert E. Lee. Some protesters carrying torches march on the University of Virginia campus chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”
That rally made Virginia city yet another battleground of growing polarization in America’s culture war. It was an event that emboldened white nationalists and white supremacists to boldly display their beliefs in public and not just online.
Former President Donald Trump was condemned for saying there were “fine people on both sides” after the rally turned into violent clashes.
President Joe Biden has frequently mentioned the torch-lit march, and Trump’s response to the event accelerated his decision to run for the White House after two unsuccessful campaigns.
Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn, co-lead lawyers, said in a statement:
We are thrilled that the jury has delivered a verdict in favor of our plaintiffs, finally giving them the justice they deserve after the horrific weekend of violence and intimidation in August 2017.
Executive director for Integrity First for America, Amy Spitalnick, the group that funded the suit, called the multimillion-dollar decision a message:
This verdict sends a very clear message that violent hate will not go unanswered. There will be very serious consequences for the sort of extremist violence we saw here four years ago. And that’s incredibly powerful, particularly at a moment when we know that extremism is on the rise, when democracy is under threat, and when there has been so little accountability.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Reuters: Jury hits organizers of ‘Unite the Right’ rally with $26 mln verdict; by Kanishka Singh and Joseph Ax
CNN: Jury finds Unite the Right defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages; by Mark Morales and Steve Almasy
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Anthony Crider’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Rodney Dunning’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License