CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia. – White nationalists “planned, executed and then celebrated” the racist violence that killed a counter-protester and injured dozens, lawyers for nine people injured at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville said Thursday as they urged jurors to organize some of the country’s protests. most notorious white supremacists responsible.
Their closing arguments in Charlottesville U.S. District Court took place during a civil trial alleging two dozen white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremist organizations plotted to commit violence during two days of protests.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs showed the jury dozens of text messages, chat room exchanges and social media posts by the rally’s main organizers, some with racial epithets and “broken skull” speeches. anti-racist counter-demonstrators.
“We pursued those responsible – the leaders, the promoters, the group leaders, the people who brought in the army, the people who were the most violent members of the military. These are the people we ask you to hold accountable today, ”said lawyer Karen Dunn.
Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2017, apparently to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
During a march on the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists surrounded counter-protesters, shouting “The Jews will not replace us!” and threw burning tiki torches at them. The next day, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler crashed into his car in a crowd, killing one woman and injuring others.
James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving a life sentence for murder and hate crimes for the car attack. He is named a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks pecuniary damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.
Other defendants have used their pleadings to distance themselves from Fields. Their lawyers told jurors that the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs do not prove that the defendants made a conspiracy to commit violence.
Lawyer James Kolenich, who represents Jason Kessler, the main organizer of the rally, and two other defendants, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys showed the defendants “ridiculous” and “offensive” things, but failed to prove that it was a conspiracy.
“They proved to you that the alt-right is the alt-right. They are racists, they are anti-Semites. No kidding. You knew that when you walked in here, ”Kolenich said.
“What does that do to prove a conspiracy?” ” he said.
Kolenich said that when the defendants spoke about violence before the rally, they were referring to brawls, pushes and shoves, not punching in a crowd with a car.
“None of these defendants could have foreseen what James Fields did,” Kolenich said.
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right” and represented himself at trial, told the jury that he had no role in planning the events and that he had no committed acts of violence. Lawyers for the plaintiffs described Spencer as the leader of the torch rally.
“The last thing in the world I wanted when agreeing to speak to Unite the Right was an event that turned into a disaster, which involved the tragic death of a young woman, which involved the injuries of the plaintiffs and which will forever remain a stain. . about the cause that I sincerely believe in, ”Spencer said.
Spencer also reminded the jury of then-President Donald Trump’s controversial comments after the rally when he did not immediately speak out against white nationalists and said there were “very good people from both. sides “. This drew a warning from Judge Norman Moon, who said Trump’s remarks were not evidence in the case and could not be used.
Spencer was again warned by the judge when he started talking about Jesus, describing him as a radical who was executed for his opinions.
Spencer turned to the jury again: “Your job – and it is a difficult job – is to apply the law fairly and precisely, even to those you might despise.”
Lawyers for the defendants argued that there was no conspiracy and that their use of racial epithets and boastful speeches in chat rooms before the rally were protected by the First Amendment. Several defendants said they only resorted to violence after they or their associates had been assaulted. They blamed the violence on the anti-fascist protesters known as the antifa, as well as between them.
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations on Friday.
Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told jurors that if they find the defendants responsible for the violence, it is up to them to determine the amount of damages. She suggested a range of $ 7-10 million for each of the four complainants who were injured in the car attack and $ 3-5 million for complainants physically injured in street clashes or injured. emotionally by witnessing violence. Kaplan did not suggest a specific range for punitive damages.
The lawsuit is funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.