Plaintiffs in the landmark civil litigation against the organizers of the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally brought their final witnesses to the stand on Friday, including a law student at the University of Virginia and the commander of the National Socialist Movement.
Elizabeth Sines, who passed the bar this past summer and now works for a law firm in Baltimore, is the lead plaintiff in the case Sines v. Kessler, which was brought by the nonprofit Integrity First for America. She recorded a torch march by white nationalists on the eve of the Unite the Rally and was also present the following day when rallygoer James Fields plowed his Dodge Challenger into a group of antiracist marchers, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
Standing at the top of the Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus on the night of Aug. 11, 2017, Sines filmed the torch-bearing white nationalists as they surrounded student counter-protesters at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue.
The plaintiffs played Sines' Facebook Live video for the jury. She can be heard in the video reacting in horror as she narrates what she's seeing.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," she says. "Holy sh*t. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Oh my God."
"When the tail of the marchers finally finished coming down the stairs — it was systematic — they would pull one student from the statue," Sines testified on Friday. "They were throwing full punches. They would punch and kick. They dragged one down and attacked."
Sines said her friend, who was there with her, described the assault as being "like cancer cells attacking healthy cells — they were just swarming."
Sines testified on Friday that she saw defendant Richard Spencer, the onetime figurehead of the alt-right movement, at the torch march, and she identified him in the courtroom on Friday.
The following day, Sines joined counter-protesters in downtown Charlottesville, and on Friday she gave an emotional account of witnessing Fields' car attack.
"It sounded like you took a metal baseball bat and slid it across a wooden fence," she testified. "Thuds. Screaming. The crowd parted. I don't know…. I can see it in slow motion. I'm sorry. You can see a car flying down the road and hit a larger group and crash into another vehicle at the bottom. I thought it was an accident. I couldn't believe someone would do that. Then he reversed and drove over people he hit. We knew then — I knew he was trying to kill as many people as possible."
Sines testified that she saw bodies flying through the air, and "jumped over someone who had been hit who was unconscious in the road" as she fled the scene.
"It was carnage," she testified. "There were people having panic attacks. There were people severely injured. Blood. People shielded people receiving medical treatment with their banners."
Although she was not physically injured in the attack, Sines testified that she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance and panic attacks. Dr. Nadia Webb, an expert witness, testified on Friday that four other plaintiffs experienced severe post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. Webb testified that three of the plaintiffs who were physically injured in the car attack exhibit pathological patterns consistent with traumatic brain injury.
Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, Sines testified that she did not seek counseling until recently.
"I was here this summer for a few days," said Sines, who now works for a law firm in Baltimore. "We were on a road trip; we stopped in Charlottesville. We were walking towards the statue, and I had a flashback. I started having a panic attack. I felt like I needed help. I realized I wasn't going to be able to do it on my own."
During Sines' cross-examination, defendants attempted to raise questions about her motives for counter-protesting Unite the Right. Sines testified that growing up in a town in Maryland near the West Virginia state line, she was familiar with the Ku Klux Klan attempting to recruit through fliering campaigns.
Prior to Unite the Right, Sines showed up to counter-protest a July 8 Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville that similarly attempted to exploit white grievance over the city's plans to remove Confederate monuments. Noting that counter-protesters vastly outnumbered the Klan and their supporters, Sines testified, "I feel that large numbers of counter-protesters are an important component of safety."
Spencer, along with co-defendant Christopher Cantwell and the lawyer for the League of the South defendants, questioned why Sines would think counter-protesting the white nationalists would make her safe.
"When I was at the KKK rally I saw a very large number of counter-protesters," Sines testified in response to Spencer's cross-examination. "I would say they probably outnumbered the Klan members 10, maybe 20 to one. To me, that felt like there was the reason there was no violence.
"It felt like it kept the Klan in check," she continued. "Why would they inflict violence on people if they were outnumbered?"
As Spencer continued to challenge Sines' belief that joining with other community members to counter-protest would increase safety, Sines said, "I think it's important to use my voice to speak out against what I feel is injustice."
"It's not about safety, right?" he said.
Spencer also questioned Sines about an interview she gave to MTV shortly after the rally in which she described her concern about hearing that Unite the Right attendees were headed to Friendship Court, a predominantly African-American public housing community after the rally was declared an unlawful assembly.
"There were Nazis in the area that were intimidating," Sines testified. "I'm trying to say they were fearful of being attacked and trapped in their homes."
"Being 'trapped in your home' — is it dangerous to be in your home?" Spencer asked, sounding incredulous.
"If there are Nazis outside of your home, and you're Black, I would certainly be afraid," Sines testified.
Jeff Schoep, the former commander of the National Socialist Movement, testified on Friday as the final witness for the plaintiffs. The National Socialist Movement traces its roots back to the original American Nazi Party founded by George Lincoln Rockwell.
Schoep testified that he had been a member since 2001, and the National Socialist Movement was the oldest organization in the coalition of alt-right groups that staged Unite the Right. But by the early 2010s, the National Socialist Movement was in decline and Schoep formed an alliance with Matthew Heimbach, leader of the then up-and-coming Traditionalist Worker Party. Together, the two organizations formed the Nationalist Front as an umbrella for the US neo-Nazi movement that brought in League of the South and Vanguard America. Since 2017, Schoep has left the National Socialist Movement.
The plaintiffs showed the jury a June 2017 email exchange between Schoep and Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the rally. In the exchange, Kessler mentioned an invitation to Schoep to join the Charlottesville 2.0 planning server on Discord, and Schoep responded, "I would like to you to see what we bring to the table." He added, "The men are battle tested in the street."
According to the exchange, Kessler replied: "It's truly humbling to think I can play a part to bring the various factions together," adding that people in the white nationalist movement "have been working towards this for 25 years."
In a deposition that Schoep authenticated during his testimony on Friday, the witness stated that far-right groups "often believe there's going to be a civil war and a race war, or a combination of the two" and that during the period leading up to Unite the Right their posture would have been to "harden your resolve and prepare for violence."
The plaintiffs also presented a tweet in which Schoep wrote, "I knocked out an antifa scumbag, laid him out in the street," an apparent reference to the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017.
Plaintiffs counsel William Isaacson showed Schoep a video, asking, "That was you decking a counter-protester, right?"
"It's hard to identity someone from the back of their head," Schoep complained.
Isaacson moved the video back to provide a more direct view of the person in the video, and Schoep acknowledged, "That appears to be me here."
But when Isaacson presented the two clips in tandem, Schoep asked, "Now you're splicing video together?"
Finally, Judge Norman K. Moon tired of Schoep's efforts to resist being pinned down.
"Would you stand up and turn your back to the jury?" he instructed Schoep. "I think they can tell whether it's you or not."