November 25, 2021
A federal jury in Virginia awarded victims of violence stemming from a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, more than $25 million on Tuesday, November 23, after finding prominent white-supremacist leaders and groups liable under state law for injuries suffered during a torchlight march and Unite the Right event, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The jury deadlocked on two federal conspiracy counts.
The events on August 11 and August 12, 2017, were attended by hundreds of members of white-nationalist, neo-Nazi and militia groups from around the nation. Throughout the weekend, violent clashes with counter-protesters left dozens injured and one woman dead, after a white-nationalist demonstrator drove his car into a crowd.
The lawsuit was filed in October 2017 by several people who were injured that weekend. The plaintiffs used a Reconstruction-Era law to attempt to hold liable the leaders and organizers who planned the violence and others who carried it out.
Among the individual and organizational defendants found liable were Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the Unite the Right rally; Richard B. Spencer, considered a founder of the insurgent white-supremacist movement known as the alt-right; and James Fields Jr., who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a woman when he drove into a crowd of counter-protesters.
The jury also held responsible several other white-supremacist groups whose members promoted and participated in the rallies, including the National Socialist Movement, Vanguard America, and League of the South.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil-rights organization funding the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs sought to recover enough money to bankrupt those at the center of the movement
“These judgments underscore the major financial, legal, and operational consequences for violent hate,” she said Tuesday.
The lawsuit sought compensatory damages between $7 million and $10 million for the four plaintiffs who were hit by the car and between $3 million and $5 million for the other plaintiffs for trauma they suffered, as well as unspecified punitive damages.
Throughout the monthlong trial, jurors heard testimony from at least two dozen witnesses, including many of the defendants.
The two counts that the jury deadlocked on used a Reconstruction Era law—the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871—which allows victims of racially-motivated violence to sue the people who conspired to attack them.
Jurors deliberated for nearly three days before returning the verdict Tuesday afternoon, holding all defendants responsible for conspiracy under Virginia state law.
The jury also found Fields liable for claims of assault or battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On those counts, jurors awarded the plaintiffs $13.5 million in damages, including $12 million in punitive damages.
Co-lead counsels for the plaintiffs, Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn, said, in a statement Tuesday, “The laws of this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens.”
Research contact: @WSJ