Saturday, October 1, 2022

She feared she would die at a right-wing rally in Charlottesville. In court, she faced the white supremacists who were there.

Charlottesville, Virginia – Natalie Romero stared straight ahead from the witness stand when answering questions about the 2017 Unite the Right rally, when a neo-Nazi broke her skull in a car ramming.

Romero’s questioner was one of the rally headliners Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, who says his race makes him better than her.

Romero, a Colombian American, testified that she was in court this Friday because she was tired of hiding. She wanted to tell the truth.

She said she suffers from PTSD, panic attacks and flashbacks. She has an emotional support dog named Luna who was with her in Charlottesville.

She was the first witness to testify in a federal civil trial where a jury will decide whether two dozen white supremacists and hate groups named in the trial were involved in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence during a rally four years ago.

Romero told the jury how the fractured skull clouded her memory and forced her to take sick leave from college. According to her, this terrible experience destroyed her self-confidence.

In her nightmares, she can hear the rhythm of white supremacists marching at night, their faces lit by torches and chanting “Blood and earth!” and “You will not replace us!”

In front of her stood a neo-Nazi who led the march on August 11, 2017.

“You did not see me on August 12th as you testified,” Spencer Romero said, referring to the events of the next morning. “Um, you …”

Romero intervened. “I would also like to remind you that the injury that day erases a lot of things. So, for example, if you showed me what you were doing that day, I might say, “Yes, I remember that.” “

There are photographs of Spencer in Charlottesville during the rally weekend, but he did not show them to Romero. Spencer introduces himself to the case.

In substantiating this conspiracy case, the plaintiffs do not need to prove that they, as individuals, can identify the defendants in the crowd this weekend.

Jurors only need to find a standard of “evidence prevailing” rather than a higher bar of “beyond reasonable doubt” in criminal trials to determine whether defendants are more likely to conspire to commit racially motivated violence.

Romero is one of nine plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit, including three others who were directly injured when defendant James Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd of protesters and then turned back down the street.

They are represented by lawyers Karen Dunn and Roberta Kaplan, who present extensive evidence that they say is evidence of months of violent planning. At the heart of this case is a Reconstruction-era statute designed to protect newly liberated black people from the Ku Klux Klan. The Integrity First for America lawsuit, a non-profit civil rights organization, is supporting the lawsuit.

Representatives of many of the accused tried to blame others for the violence that unfolded that weekend. They dismissed hate rhetoric as hyperbolic, common far-right tactics of plausible denial, and said it was a constitutionally protected statement.

Defendant Christopher Cantwell, who also represents himself, has been dubbed a “Crying Nazi” and has pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting and beating counter-protesters sprinkling pepper. He is serving a federal prison sentence on extortion charges.

Cantwell also cross-examined Romero and went tangentially.

“Is that a question?” she asked Cantwell at one point, shaking her head gently.

“I’m a little confused,” he said.

“I’m a little confused too,” she said.

Romero, now 24 years old, identifies as a queer woman and lives in New York City. But in 2017, she was a first-generation college student from Houston who enrolled in her sophomore year at the University of Virginia.

She worked hard, participated in a mentoring program, went hiking and watched the sunsets with friends.

On August 11, she was wearing slippers when she and two friends went outside to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Then she heard a roar.

The students joined hands, joined hands and began to sing. Then she heard the roar of the crowd with torches. She closed her eyes, prayed and wished to cover her face. She said that she and her friend were “the only people of color” nearby, and the protesters “shouted at us.”

They sprayed her with a mace and saw how they used torches as weapons and attacked people.

This was not the last time in the next 24 hours that she feared for her life.

The next morning, August 12, she joined the community outside of what she called Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee used to stand. She saw shields, someone with a hammer, swastikas and shirts praising Adolf Hitler.

At one point, she said she stood in line with a group of women when white supremacists used derogatory and misogynistic language towards women.

She recalls being momentarily relieved because most of the women she was with were white.

“I am a light-skinned Latina. Maybe they don’t notice, she thought.

Instead, she said that they pushed her over and threw her into a police car.

“People who hate me and don’t think I should be alive have spat on me,” Romero said.

She then explained how she ended up on SE Fourth Street, a narrow one-way street where Fields drove his car through the crowd, hitting her.

She felt blood dripping down her face, loud ringing in her ears and the beating of her heart. She wanted to call her mom.

Romero said she reached out to grab a nearby post in a desperate attempt to keep her body upright.

She told the jury that if she allowed herself to lie down, she was afraid she would die.

Nation World News Desk
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