Marissa Blair was a paralegal who commuted from Amherst, Va., a town one hour away, to her job as a paralegal in Charlottesville when white supremacists staged the violent Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
One of nine plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit brought against the Unite the Right organizers by Integrity First for America, Blair took the witness stand on Monday as the trial entered its third week.
Blair testified that she understood that the rally was about protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, but also discerned from the digital flier advertising the event that it was about promoting racism, Nazism and anti-Semitism.
Blair testified that she was not familiar with "Antifa," and had to Google it to find out what it was. She was not member of Black Lives Matter.
Blair testified that she learned about the rally two weeks earlier, but that she only decided to join counter-protests against it on August 12th after seeing footage of Nazis brandishing tiki torches on the night of August 11th.
"It looked very intimidating, and I decided I wanted to go stand up with the people of Charlottesville," Blair testified.
She went with her fiancé, a landscaper named Marcus Martin. Blair testified that Martin was on probation and she wanted to avoid confrontation, so they didn't go to Emancipation Park, where the white supremacists were rallying. They arrived in downtown between noon and 12:30 p.m., after the police had declared the gathering to be an unlawful assembly, and picked up a friend. Then the three of them met Blair's friend and fellow paralegal, Heather Heyer.
"It was a very happy, joyous crowd," Blair testified. "It immediately caught our attention. I saw people giving hugs, handing out snacks and water, people waving rainbow flags. We were attracted to them. That's the type of atmosphere we wanted to be around."
Shortly after they met up with Heyer, James Fields, a man who had rallied earlier in the day with the white supremacist group Vanguard America, accelerated his Dodge Challenger into the marchers.
Blair testified that Martin pushed her out of the way of Fields' car. She testified that she found herself in a scene of utter chaos and confusion. She went looking for Martin. Eventually a stranger took Blair by the hand and led her to her fiancé, who had been hit by the car and flipped over the roof. Blair identified herself in a photo presented by plaintiffs' counsel helping Martin to an ambulance because, as she said, "he couldn't put any pressure on his leg."
Blair testified that she didn't know where Heyer was. Friends wondered if she had left the area, but someone went to check and discovered her car was still where she left it. Blair was in a hospital waiting room when she overheard someone say, "Did you hear that girl died?" She asked an attendant if it was her friend, and eventually a police officer came out to talk to her.
"I dropped to my knees," Blair testified. "He told, 'I'm sorry to tell you that was your friend.' I dropped to my knees and sobbed."
During cross-examination, defendant Christopher Cantwell played back video that Blair recorded and that was introduced into evidence by the plaintiffs. The video captured Blair calling for her fiancé. As the horrific scene replayed, Cantwell asked Blair to identify items of clothing or paraphernalia among counter-protesters in a strained effort to link her to leftist radicals or potential violence, including a flagpole holding a rainbow flag, red bandannas, black bandannas.
"Do you remember seeing that man?" Cantwell asked at one point.
"It was total chaos," Blair responded. "I was only trying to find my fiancé."
The jury also heard testimony by video deposition on Monday from Vasillios Pistolis, a member of Atomwaffen and also a member of the Marine Corps at the time of the Unite the Right rally.
Pistolis testified that he exchanged messages with Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the rally. Pistolis asked Kessler whether it was okay to arrive before the scheduled Aug. 12 rally, and the text showed that Kessler assured him: "The earlier the better."
Pistolis brought a flag attached to a piece of wood that he testified he had purchased from a hardware store.
The plaintiffs showed the jury a message Pistolis wrote in a channel on Discord set up for Atomwaffen members, in which he wrote, "The police are not allowing us to open carry or bring knives. My flagpole happens to have staples from a staplegun sticking out."
Asked about the statement in his deposition, Pistolis invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination, one of many times he did so.
Pistolis refused to answer whether he used his flagpole to assault counter-protesters and also whether he assaulted counter-protesters next to Cantwell, who previously pleaded guilty to pepper-spraying two counter-protesters who were surrounding the Thomas Jefferson statue on the campus of the University of Virginia on the night before the main rally.
The plaintiffs showed the jury Discord chats where Pistolis mentioned a blood-soaked flag he kept as a memento and wrote, "Not my blood."
The plaintiffs also showed photos of Pistolis swinging his staple-studded flagpole like a baseball bat. When counsel asked him how many people he hit with the flagpole, Pistolis again pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Some of the photographic and video evidence also showed Pistolis near Fields as well as near Michael Tubbs, who received the assignment of commander on the ground for the League of the South. Tubbs and the League of the South, along with its president Michael Hill are among the two dozen co-defendants in the lawsuit.
While Pistolis refused to testify about his alleged assaults on Aug. 12, the plaintiffs presented a Discord chat from that day in which he wrote: "Today cracked 3 skulls open with virtually no damage to myself."
Tubbs, a member of the Florida chapter of the League of the South, also testified on Monday, joining the court through a Zoom call.
Before the start of the trial, Tubbs sought to have his conviction for theft of arms and munitions from the US military excluded from evidence. Tubbs was arrested while on deployment in Saudi Arabia in 1990, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and had "planned to use the stolen weapons and explosives to bomb black and Jewish-owned businesses and instigate a race war." But Judge Norman K. Moon denied Tubbs' motion to suppress information about his conviction.
In the past three decades, Tubbs's views have not changed.
Plaintiffs counsel Alan Levine quoted from a statement made Hill on the one-year anniversary of Unite the Right: "To us, Dixie is and should be white man's land."
"I'll agree with that 100 percent," Tubbs testified.
Video presented by the plaintiffs showed the League of the South column bashing through counter-protesters with shields and flagpoles. Another video showed Tubbs and a group of League members holding a line on the steps to Emancipation Park, and then running down into the street and pummeling a counter-protesters. Plaintiffs showed a video of Michael Tubbs slamming a person to the ground outside of the park.
Like Hill, Tubbs tried to deflect charges that he was seeking confrontation when he led League of the South members through a line of counter-protester blocking East Market Street.
Levine showed Tubbs an email from Hill in which Hill said: "For instance, we wanted a public confrontation in Charlottesville for the world to see, and we got it."
While Tubbs resisted Levine's efforts to get him to admit that he went to Charlottesville seeking a confrontation, he didn't shrink from expressing pride in his deeds that day.
After Levine quoted from a speech in which Hill said marching down the street with Tubbs in Charlottesville was one of the proudest days of his life, Tubbs readily volunteered.
"It was also one of the proudest days of my life — that day on the streets of Charlottesville," Tubbs testified. "I have no regrets about it."
The plaintiffs presented a message exchange between Tubbs and another League member on the Russian social media platform VK. The other member said, "You will be missed, especially if there's a confrontation." Tubbs responded: "I pray I don't miss any good violence."
The plaintiffs also presented a July 8 email from Tubbs to Hill in which he wrote about planning for the Unite the Right rally: "Even though we haven't had any hard intel so far to make us believe there was going to be violence, I think we all assumed there would be and maybe even hoped for it."
During his testimony, Tubbs identified himself in a photo depicting the beating of DeAndre Harris, a young, Black man, at the East Market Street Parking Garage.
"I walked past that beating and several others, yes I did," Tubbs testified.
Tyler Davis, a Florida member of the League of the South, pleaded guilty to malicious wounding in 2019, and received a two-year prison sentence for his role in the vicious assault on Harris.
The plaintiffs put Tubbs' reaction to Heyer's death into evidence, alongside reactions from former Vanguard America leader Dillon Hopper and Pistolis. Their responses, ranging from celebration to callous indifference, will likely be used by the plaintiffs to argue that the defendants not only planned and executed racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, but also ratified it after the fact.
"It's always a tragedy when people are killed and injured," Tubbs testified on Monday. "It was on television. I didn't feel that there was an emotional connection between me and that event."
The plaintiffs presented tweets from Tubbs in which he wrote, "Fields did nothing wrong," six times in May and June of 2020 ,in response to car-ramming attacks against people involved in the George Floyd protests.
After learning about the car attack, Hopper wrote in Discord: "Commies died. That's good enough for me."
"All I knew is that there was a car accident — a car had been driven into a group of protesters," he said during his video deposition. "I didn't know it was James Fields, or someone who had been with our group…. I just thought it was some lone wolf.
"I felt legitimately bad that somebody had to die," Hopper added. "At the same time, this is a rally where violence is likely imminent. You can't go there expecting to not be potentially injured. It's like a surfer who goes out to surf knowing that there's a danger of sharks. That was that woman's choice to go out there."
Pistolis tweeted four months after the car attack: "Heather Heyer was a fat cunt who died of a heart attack."
"Why did you call her a fat cunt?" the plaintiffs' counsel asked during his video deposition.
"Because that's who she is," Pistolis responded without emotion.
Hopper, a Marine Corps veteran, was the leader of Vanguard America at the time the group was invited to participate in Unite the Right, but he was deposed before the rally and testified that he did not attend. Hopper testified that Thomas Rousseau led the Vanguard America members on the ground at Charlottesville. After Unite the Right, Vanguard America would fold, and Rousseau would bring most of the membership into a new organization called Patriot Front.
Hopper testified that he spoke to Rousseau after Unite the Right.
"He told me he let James Fields into Vanguard America's formation when nobody knew who he was, and gave him a shield to march with us," Hopper testified. "Thomas' reasoning was to make Vanguard America look like a larger organization."