More than four years ago, hundreds of white nationalists from a dozen “alt-right” white supremacist organizations joined together in Charlottesville, Virginia, to march with tiki-torches and flags, shouting antisemitic and racist slogans.
It took more than four years, but nine individuals who were injured and traumatized by white supremacists have now achieved a measure of justice.
More than four years ago, hundreds of white nationalists from a dozen “alt-right” white supremacist organizations joined together in Charlottesville, Virginia, to march with tiki-torches and flags, shouting antisemitic and racist slogans. They opposed the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Carrying shields, some wearing body armor, they punched and pepper-sprayed students and local clergy — peaceful protesters — along with innocent bystanders during their “Unite the Right” weekend of Aug. 11-12, 2017. One person — Heather Heyer — was killed when James Fields Jr. drove his car into protestors; he is serving a life sentence in a Virginia prison.
Dozens of others were hurt and traumatized that night — some suffering lasting physical and emotional pain and disability — without anyone being held accountable until a civil suit was filed on their behalf in October 2017 by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit organization.
After a trial that lasted almost a month, 11 jurors ruled Nov. 23 that the defendants conspired to deprive the plaintiffs of their civil rights under Virginia law. Extensive evidence, comprising online posts, cell phone records and texts, convinced jurors that the racially motivated violence that weekend was planned. However, the jury deadlocked on charges of a federal conspiracy under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
The nine plaintiffs of Sines v Kessler were awarded more than $25 million in damages to be paid by 12 individual defendants, including James Fields Jr., and five white nationalist organizations (Vanguard America, the League of the South, Identity Evropa, the Traditionalist Worker Party and the National Socialist Movement).
Steven Winter, Walter S. Gibbs Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Wayne State University Law School, describes the outcome as a win with a “high verdict.” The defendants may have their personal assets, such as houses, seized to pay the judgments against them and may face garnishment of their wages, he explains.
According to Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, even before the jury verdict, the case has resulted in costly legal fees and recruitment difficulties for the white nationalists that are defendants.
“This case has sent a clear message: Violent hate won’t go unanswered. There will be accountability. These judgments underscore the major financial, legal and operational consequences for violent hate — even beyond the significant impacts this case has already had,” said Spitalnick.
Integrity First for America stated in a news release:
“It has been a long four years since we first brought this case. Today, we can celebrate the jury’s verdict finally holding defendants like [Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell] accountable for what they did to us and to everyone else in the Charlottesville community who stood up against hate in August 2017. Our single greatest hope is that today’s verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy.”