The decision by a Virginia jury to find the organizers of Unite the Right liable for conspiracy to commit racial, religious and ethnic harassment and violence was hailed by the legal team and the Charlottesville community today.
"This case has sent a clear message: Violent hate won't go unanswered," said Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, the civil rights nonprofit that brought the landmark lawsuit on behalf of nine local residents injured during the violent 2017 white nationalist rally. "There will be accountability."
The jury ordered defendants to pay about $25 million in damages.
In the aftermath of the rally, James Alex Fields' assault was greeted with horror, but since then car attacks have steadily risen, including an incident this week in which a driver targeted people in Manchester, Ct. who were protesting the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.
That case, which centered on a more recent flashpoint over the nation's struggle with race, violence and far-right extremism, sent an entirely different signal — that white vigilantes have license to commit violence against racial justice protesters and will be viewed as protectors of law and order.
The Charlottesville case, similarly, took on a larger national significance, and a verdict in favor of the defendants would have likely been received as a green light for new acts of coordinated white supremacist violence.
"These judgements underscore the major financial, legal and operational consequences for violent hate — even beyond the significant impacts this case has already had," Spitalnick said. "And at a moment of rising extremism, major threats to democracy, and far too little justice, this case has provided a model for accountability."
But the 11 jurors deadlocked over two federal civil rights claims which would have found that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence, and instead found the defendants liable under a similarly worded Virginia state law civil conspiracy claim.
Community groups in Charlottesville, including the local chapters of Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice, issued a statement celebrating the verdict while also emphasizing the importance of opposing white power extremists in the streets.
"We honor the plaintiffs in the trial, all of whom showed up for our community on August 11th and 12th, 2017," the groups said. "These plaintiffs were subject to further abuse from the white supremacist defendants during the trial itself. We ask everyone to continue to support all of the survivors (including Black and Brown community members), many of whom have ongoing trauma.
"While the focus has been on the court system and this trial, we emphasize that any victories we've earned over white supremacy have been because regular everyday people were willing to get in the streets and confront white supremacy," the statement continued. "Disruption works. Protest works. Our racist confederate statues are finally gone. Many of the 2017 white supremacist groups have splintered and imploded."
The plaintiffs, including Natalie Romero, a University of Virginia student whose skull was fractured as a result of the car attack, said in a statement: "Today, we can celebrate the jury's verdict finally holding defendants like Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell accountable for what they did to us and to everyone else in the Charlottesville community who stood up to hate in August 2017. Our single greatest hope is that today's verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy."
The jury found all defendants liable in the Virginia state conspiracy claim, including Kessler, Spencer, Cantwell, James Fields, Robert "Azzmador" Ray, Nathan Damigo, Elliott Kline, Matthew Heimbach, David Matthew Parrott, Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs, Jeff Schoep, League of the South, Vanguard America, National Socialist Movement, Identity Evropa and Traditionalist Worker Party.
Co-lead counsel Roberta Kaplan told Judge Norman K. Moon following the verdict that the plaintiffs plan to file a default judgement against other defendants who did not respond to the lawsuit, including Andrew Anglin, Moonbase Holdings LLC, Augustus Sol Invictus, Nationalist Front and East Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Kaplan and co-lead counsel Karen Dunn expressed gratitude for the verdict.
"The evidence was overwhelming that leaders of the white supremacist movement from all over the country planned for months to bring violence and intimidation to the streets of Charlottesville and that our brave clients, among many others, were injured when they dared to stand up for their values," they said. "Today's verdict sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that the laws of this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens."
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