June 28, 2022
the defendants "conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events

the defendants "conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events

Charlottesville: Why are the ‘Unite the Right’ organisers on trial?

Over four years after a deadly far-right extremist rally in Virginia, organisers of the event are facing a civil trial to determine whether they should be held responsible for the chaos that ensued.

The “Unite the Right” rally that began on the night of 11 August 2017, in Charlottesville, was seen as a defining moment in recent American history.

An alleged neo-Nazi plowed into counter-protesters with his car, killing one and injuring dozens of others.

Now, nine people injured in the violence are suing 24 of the organisers and promoters, some of whom have gained notoriety as self-declared leaders of the “alt-right”. Jury selection began on Monday and a trial is due to start as early as this week.

Here’s what we know.

‘A battle for the soul of America’
Charlottesville attacker: I regret my actions
The black man who took on the Klan
What is the lawsuit about?
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants “conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events” that took place at the rally.

“Defendants brought with them to Charlottesville the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow and of fascism,” the lawsuit says. “They also brought with them semi-automatic weapons, pistols, mace, rods, armour shields and torches.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they have collected more than 5.3 terabytes of evidence, including social media posts and chat room exchanges from messaging platform Discord.

The lawsuit invokes a 1871 law passed after the US Civil War, which was originally intended to protect black Americans from the Ku Klux Klan following their emancipation from slavery.

The law allows private citizens to sue others believed to have committed civil rights violations. The plaintiffs, however, must prove that the defendants conspired to do so and that injuries resulted.

“That’s just a testament to the fact that we have a situation in this country where people can credibly accuse others of committing the kind of act that Congress was worried about after the Civil War,” attorney Roberta Kaplan was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

The lawsuit is backed by a campaign group, Integrity First for America.

“The goal, first and foremost, is accountability for the defendants and justice for the plaintiffs and for the community in Charlottesville,” said the group’s Executive Director, Amy Spitalnick.What is the defence team saying?
The defendants include prominent figures in America’s white nationalist and far-right movement, including Jason Kessler, the rally’s main organiser and Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who famously coined the term “alt-right” and spoke at the event.

Some of the defendants, including Mr Spencer and “the crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell – so nicknamed for a tearful YouTube video he posted in the aftermath of the rally – are representing themselves in court.

Several of the defendants have also claimed that mentions of violence, combat and weapons ahead of the event were referencing the possibility of having to defend themselves from counter-protesters.

Some have said that their communications are protected by their constitutional rights.

“You can say any nasty thing you want about any person or group you want and that is protected by the First Amendment,” Edward ReBrook IV, an attorney for one of the defendants, former Nationalist Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep, told the Associated Press. “That’s not me saying that, that’s the Supreme Court.”

Several of the defendants and their lawyers did not respond to the BBC’s requests for comment.

The plaintiffs have already received default judgements against seven of the defendants who refused to cooperate.

What happened at the murder trial?
The man who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the Charlottesville rally, James Alex Fields, was sentenced to life in prison in June 2019.

Four of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit were injured in the incident, which killed Heather Heyer, 32.