Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A woman recalls the ‘utter horror’ of a car attack in Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (AP) – A woman who was pushed off the road when her car crashed into counter-protesters at a 2017 White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville described a scene of “utter terror” when she testified on Monday that she saw her fiancé bleed to death … sidewalk, and later on recognizing a friend was killed.

Marissa Blair took a position in the third week of a civil lawsuit to bring white national organizers of the United Right rally to justice for the violence that broke out. Nine people injured or emotionally traumatized, including Blair, have sued the rally organizers, claiming that they conspired to commit violence during two days of demonstrations in Charlottesville.

“I was embarrassed. I was scared. I was worried about all the people who were there. It was a real horror scene. There was blood everywhere. I was terrified,” Blair said, bursting into tears during her testimony.

WATCH: Trial of White Nationalists behind 2017 Charlottesville Rally To Begin

Car driver James Alex Fields Jr., a self-proclaimed admirer of Adolf Hitler from Maumi, Ohio, is serving a life sentence in prison for murder and hate crimes. As a result of a car attack, one woman was killed and several dozen were injured.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from two dozen white supremacists, neo-Nazis and organizations that the plaintiffs claim were involved in a conspiracy to incite violence.

Hundreds of white nationalists arrived in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to demolish a statue of Confederate General Robert Lee. On both days, clashes erupted between white nationalists and anti-racist protesters, prompting the authorities to declare the August 12 rally “illegal assembly” and order the crowd to disperse. It was after this announcement that Fields rammed his car with a peaceful group of counter-protesters.

Violence shook the nation and a political storm erupted after then-President Donald Trump failed to vigorously condemn white nationalists, stating that “there were very good people on both sides.”

The lawsuit is funded by Integrity First for America, a non-profit organization formed in response to the Charlottesville violence. Some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists have been identified as defendants, including: Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alternative right” to refer to a loosely connected group of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and others; Jason Kessler, main organizer of the rally; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who became known as a “crying Nazi” for posting a tearful video when a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of assault for using pepper spray against counter-demonstrators.

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The plaintiffs include four people injured in a car attack and others who were victims of violence during a torch rally at the University of Virginia on August 11 or during demonstrations the next day.

READ MORE: Three convicted of violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia

Plaintiffs’ lawyers showed the jury a large collection of chats, social media posts and other messages in which the defendants use racial epithets and discuss plans for demonstrations, including what weapons to bring.

They also rely on a 150-year-old law passed after the civil war to protect freed slaves from violence and protect their civil rights. This law, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, contains a rarely used provision that allows individuals to sue other citizens for civil rights violations.

Defendants allege that their language in many chats was hyperbolic and protected by the First Amendment. They also say that their conversations about weapons and fighting were only meant if they had to defend themselves against counter-protesters.

Blair said she suffered minor physical injuries when her fiancé pushed her out of the way as the car raced towards the crowd. But she suffered from flashbacks, panic attacks and depression from the attack and grief over the death of her friend, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

“My emotional scars were much worse than my physical ones,” Blair said.

Blair and her fiancé Marcus Martin, seriously injured when he was hit by Fields’ car, were married nine months after the attack. But Blair said the physical and psychological repercussions of the event took a toll on their relationship and they are now divorced.

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