23 November 2021

Jury awards millions in damages for Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville

23 November 2021

A jury has awarded millions of dollars in damages against white nationalist leaders for violence that erupted during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

After a nearly month-long civil trial, a jury in US District Court in Charlottesville deadlocked on two key claims but found the white nationalists liable on four other counts Tuesday.

The jury awarded slightly more than 25 million dollars to nine people who suffered physical or emotional injuries during two days of demonstrations.

James Alex Fields Jr (Steve Helber/AP) (AP)

The verdict is a rebuke to the white nationalist movement, particularly for the two dozen individuals and organisations who were accused in a federal lawsuit of orchestrating violence against African Americans, Jews and others in a meticulously planned conspiracy.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs invoked a 150-year-old law passed after the Civil War to shield freed slaves from violence and protect their civil rights.

Commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, the law contains a rarely used provision that allows private citizens to sue other citizens for civil rights violations.

Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally on August 11 and 12, 2017, ostensibly to protest over city plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen Robert E Lee.

During a march on the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists chanted “Jews will not replace us,” surrounded counter-protesters and threw tiki torches at them.

The following day, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.

Then-president Donald Trump touched off a political firestorm when he failed to immediately denounce the white nationalists, saying there were “very fine people on both sides”.

The driver of the car, James Alex Fields Jr, is serving life in prison for murder and hate crimes. Fields is one of 24 defendants named in the lawsuit funded by Integrity First for America, a non-profit civil rights organisation formed in response to the violence in Charlottesville.

The lawsuit accused some of the country’s most well-known white nationalists of plotting the violence, including Jason Kessler, the rally’s main organiser; Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected band of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and others; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who became known as the “crying Nazi” for posting a tearful video when a warrant was issued for his arrest on assault charges for using pepper spray against counter-demonstrators.

The trial featured emotional testimony from people who were struck by Fields’ car or witnessed the attacks well as plaintiffs who were beaten or subjected to racist taunts.

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