Charlottesville, Virginia. (AP) – Lawyers for nine people injured during a Unite Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 told a jury on Thursday that white nationalists “planned, executed, and then celebrated” the racially motivated violence that killed one a counter-protester and dozens were injured.
Their arguments in the US District Court in Charlottesville are based on a lawsuit alleging that two dozen white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremacist organizations conspired to commit violence during two days of demonstrations.
During the final presentation, the plaintiffs’ lawyers showed the jury dozens of text messages, chat messages and social media posts from the main organizers of the rally.
Some were filled with racial epithets and talk of “splitting the skulls” of anti-racist counter-protesters.
“We sued the people who were responsible for this – the leaders, the promoters, the group leaders, the people who led the army, the people who were the most violent members of the army. These are the people we are asking to be held accountable today, ”said attorney Karen Dunn.
Hundreds of white nationalists arrived in Charlottesville on August 11-12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to demolish a statue of Confederate General Robert Lee.
During a march across the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists surrounded the counter-protesters and shouted, “The Jews will not replace us!” and threw burning tiki torches at them. The acclaimed admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car in a crowd the next day, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.
James Alex Fields Jr. of Momi, Ohio is serving a life sentence for murder and hate crimes in a car attack. He also appears as a defendant in a pecuniary damage claim and a verdict that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
READ MORE: A woman recalls the ‘utter horror’ of a car attack in Charlottesville
Dunn told jurors that while the defendants tried to distance themselves from Fields, many of them spoke ahead of the rally that they believed that if counter-protesters block traffic or get in the way, “you will be allowed to plow them.”
The defendants’ lawyers began their closing arguments by telling the jury that the injuries inflicted on the plaintiffs did not prove that the defendants conspired to commit violence.
Lawyer James Kolenich, representing Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of the rally, and two other defendants, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys testified that the defendants said “funny” and “offensive” things, but did not prove conspiracy.
“They proved to you that the ALR is the ALR. They are racists, they are anti-Semites. No kidding. You knew about this when you came here, – said Kolenich.
“How does this prove a conspiracy?” he said.
Kolenich said that when the defendants spoke about violence before the rally, they meant fistfights, pushing and pushing, and not crashing into a crowd in a car.
“It’s impossible to foresee – no – none of these defendants could have foreseen what James Fields did,” Kolenich said.
The defendants’ lawyers argued during the month’s trial that there was no conspiracy, and that their use of racial epithets and noisy chatting before the rally was protected by the First Amendment. Several defendants testified that they only resorted to violence after being attacked or attacked by their accomplices. They blamed the violence against the anti-fascist protesters known as antifa, as well as each other.
In court, there was emotional testimony from people who were hit by Fields’ car or witnesses to the attack, as well as plaintiffs who were beaten or subjected to racist ridicule.
The lawsuit is funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
Other defendants include some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists, such as Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alternative right”; Jason Kessler, main organizer of the rally; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist known as the “Crying Nazi,” for posting a tearful video when a warrant was issued for his arrest.