Twelve jurors from Charlottesville and the surrounding area have been seated to render judgement on whether the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally conspired to commit racially motivated violence in a federal trial.
The jurors were seated around noon on Wednesday after two and half days of questioning. The jury members, who will remain anonymous by the dictate of the court, include seven white people and five Black people. Eight are men and four are women.
Judge Norman K. Moon said he plans to hear opening statements on Thursday morning. William Edward ReBrook [sp], a lawyer representing former National Socialist movement commander Jeff Schoep, has been out for two days after being admitted to an emergency room yesterday with what another lawyer described as a "common medical issue." Moon said if ReBrook has not recovered tomorrow, he can give his opening statement by Zoom.
Jury selection, which Judge Moon described as "difficult," has been roiled by questions about whether jurors can render an impartial decision, with counsel for the plaintiffs pushing to disqualify local residents who experienced the repercussions of violence on the two days that Unite the Right rained violence on Charlottesville while plaintiffs' counsel tried to strike prospective jurors who harbor negative views of "Antifa."
Three prospective jurors who were struck variously described Antifa in their questionnaires as a "terrorist organization" and "domestic terrorists." One prospective juror who described Antifa as "terrorists" said he sees evidence of discrimination against white people, but not against Black, Latino, or Jewish people.
Another woman, who is employed by a senior living company that shut down its office in downtown Charlottesville in advance of the Unite the Right rally, blamed the violence on "Black Lives Matter and the antifa movement." She told the court during questioning on Tuesday that she believes everyone has the right to demonstrate publicly, except "radical communists and atheists." She was ultimately struck from the jury.
One man who did make it onto the jury described antifa as "troublemakers."
"All I know is what I hear on the news about them involving themselves in racial riots and stuff and causing a lot of problems with that through their political beliefs," he told the court. "Here again, they don't make no difference to me. I don't know them, and they don't bother me."
During questioning on Tuesday, Karen Dunn, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, pleaded with Judge Moon that it wasn't sufficient to just inquire of the potential jurors whether they recognize that the plaintiffs are not antifa.
"People with extreme views of antifa may be less inclined to believe that defendants could be responsible and more inclined to believe defendants' claims of self-defense," she said.
Christopher Cantwell, one of the defendants, has signaled repeatedly that he will argue that at least some of the plaintiffs, who were counter-protestors injured during the Unite the Right rally, were associated with antifa.
At least one man who made it onto the jury said he holds a somewhat favorable view of antifa.
"I recall our nation fighting against totalitarianism during World War II. I agree with some of their philosophical aims of standing against totalitarianism taking root in America, yes, but I think there are ways we can all express our beliefs that are legal and just without resorting to violence or other sorts of things regardless of your beliefs," he said.
Several prospective jurors who live in Charlottesville expressed sadness and quiet frustration while describing their experiences with Unite the Right or recalling how it affected friends and family members.
One white woman said she was out of town at the time of the rally, but DeAndre Harris, a young Black man who was brutally beaten by white nationalists in a parking garage during the rally, was a teacher assistant known as "Mr. Dre" at her son's after-school program.
"I knew him for his work and what a positive influence he was on my son and all the other kids there," the woman said.
"He was severely beaten," she added. "To this day, I don't understand what happened or why it happened."
The events that took place during the Unite the Right rally caused her to distance herself from friends who were more closely involved in antiracist activism.
"The event caused me to stop communicating with a lot of the people I know," the potential juror said. "I haven't talked to them since."
When Judge Moon questioned the woman on whether she could be fair to the defendants and decide solely based on the evidence and the law, she broke down on the stand.
"When I answered that survey, I felt I could. Now that I'm here," she said, taking a long pause, "I realize this is bringing up a lot of stuff for me. I really don't know."
Judge Moon excused her for cause.
Another prospective juror, an elderly Black man, told the court he did not believe he could rule in favor of the defendants.
"I pretty much have already made up my mind," he said. "I lived here in town. I know people that were assaulted. Those people were hurt. That poor girl is dead. Come on, man. No, I've made up my mind how I feel about that. I'm just being honest."
The attorneys for the plaintiffs had attempted to restore a Black man to the jury through what is known as a Batson challenge, based on the rule that parties may not eliminate jurors on the basis of race. But Judge Norman K. Moon denied the plaintiffs' motion.
Neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell described the prospective juror who said on his jury questionnaire that he had a favorable view of Black Lives Matter and strongly supported removing Confederate monuments as an "anti-white race nut." Responding to questions submitted by the defendants on Monday, the man also said he believes any group, including white nationalists, should be able to hold public demonstrations and that "everyone can be a victim of racism, no matter the color, and it happens every day."
"I'm a professional talk-show host," Cantwell told the court on Wednesday, explaining why he thought the juror should be excused for cause. "I talk and listen for a living. I detected deception in the man's voice…. They were answering questions dishonestly and sarcastically because they wanted to be on the jury."
Richard Spencer, the debonair white nationalist who was at one time a figurehead of the alt-right, said he concurred with Cantwell, qualifying his agreement by saying he "enveloped it in Straussian language. The defendants' original argument during a sidebar on Monday evening, which was based on Cantwell and Spencer's objections, was that "the juror had an openly anti-defendant attitude" that was evident on his face.
"Courts have uniformly found that looking at someone's face actually makes the case for pretext stronger," Karen Dunn, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, told Judge Moon. "Demeanor-based objections are impermissible. Mr. Spencer said, 'The juror's answers were too perfect. You can't go by words.'… These demeanor-based abstractions expressly support a Batson challenge. That's what you have here."
Moon ruled that the defendants could keep the man off the jury, saying he found Spencer and Cantwell's assertions that the strike was not motivated by race, but by their assessment of his honesty to be persuasive.