Jury finds Charlottesville rioters who carried Ku Klux Klan torches and chanted antisemitic slogans liable for $26 million in damages
A jury in Virginia has found that prominent white supremacists and white-supremacist organisations are liable for more than $26 million (£19.5 million) in damages from the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, in which one civil rights activist was killed and dozens were injured.
During the rally, held to oppose the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, white supremacists marched through the town carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
The case, seeking damages for the physical and emotional injuries caused at the rally, was brought about by the civil rights organisation “Integrity First for America”, alongside those injured in the violence as well as other town residents. The jury in the civil trial heard testimony for four weeks and took three days to deliberate.
Evidence entered in the trial known as Sines v. Kessler included social media posts, text messages and online chats between the rally organisers. According to the jury, the plaintiffs proved that the defendants – who included event organiser Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, thought to have coined the term “alt-right” – violated a Virginia conspiracy law in advance of the event.
In her testimony, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt said that there was “a great deal of overt antisemitism and adulation of the Third Reich.” Ms Lipstadt added that “very few things” surprised her, but she was “taken aback” by the evidence she saw.
According to reports, antisemitic slurs and hate speech were frequently heard from defendants during the trial, with defendant Michael Hill pledging during testimony that he was “a white supremacist, a racist, an antisemite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe, and any other sort of ‘phobe’ that benefits my people, so help me God.’”
Commenting on the result in a statement, Integrity First for America said that the case had sent “a clear message” that “violent hate won’t go unanswered.” The statement added: “At a moment of rising extremism, major threats to our democracy, and far too little justice, the case has provided a model of accountability.”
During the 2017 violence, white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr drove his car into a crowd, killing civil rights activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens. Mr Fields was convicted of murder in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.
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