Four years after White supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the “Unite the Right” rally, a civil trial that started Monday will decide whether organizers had predetermined the event would turn violent. Dozens were injured and one person died in the chaos surrounding the rally.
“There is one thing about this case that should be made crystal-clear at the outset – the violence in Charlottesville was no accident,” the federal lawsuit argues.
Seven jurors were selected Monday. They will decide whether organizers intended to wreak havoc in Charlottesville in August 2017. Some jurors were dismissed because they could not set aside preconveived opinions about the rally. Others were dismissed or excused for health reasons or conflicts with their jobs.
The plaintiffs, who include town residents and counterprotesters injured in two days of clashes in August 2017, contend the organizers of the rally engaged in a conspiracy. The 10 individuals are seeking “compensatory and statutory” damages for physical and emotional injuries they suffered.
The events surrounding August 11 and 12 saw White nationalists and supremacists marching through Charlottesville and the University of Virginia campus chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” “You will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a phrase evoking Nazi philosophy on ethnic identity.
Violence erupts at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia
Americans were jolted by footage of fighting among White nationalists, supremacists and counterprotesters. The violence culminated when James Fields – who joined White nationalists and others opposed to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee – drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters. Dozens were injured and Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed.
In the years since the rally, some of the defendants – including White supremacist Christopher Cantwell – have also faced criminal charges related to their activities.
W. Edward ReBrook IV, attorney for three organizations and three individuals named in the suit, told CNN in a statement that after years of court filings, the “plaintiffs have yet to produce a single piece of evidence to support their claim of a conspiracy to commit violence in Charlottesville.”
But the plaintiffs argue there is plenty of such evidence they will present at the Charlottesville trial. They also say rally participants bragged after the event, in military terms, about the violence they instigated.
The 2017 rally turned the city into another battleground in America’s culture wars and highlighted growing polarization. It was also an event that empowered White supremacists and nationalists to demonstrate their beliefs in public rather than just in online chatrooms.
Organizers wanted to ignite race war, the suit says
The plaintiffs include college students, city residents and a clergy member. Four were struck by the car driven by Fields, the complaint reads. Others claim they were kicked, punched or spat upon.
Attorneys contend organizers of the Unite the Right rally planned for a violent showdown from the start.
Organizer Jason Kessler applied for the permit for the rally in May 2017, claiming the event would be a protest against the removal of the Lee statue, the complaint said. City Council voted to remove the statue in April 2017, and in June that year it voted to rename the park Emancipation Park.