Court rules Charlottesville victims can advance suit against white nationalists

Posted at 12:56 PM, Jul 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-10 12:56:13-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The federal district court in Charlottesville ruled today that a civil rights lawsuit against neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and affiliated groups over the violence in Charlottesville last August can move forward.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – AUGUST 12: Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a 62-page ruling from Judge Norman Moon, the court rejected motions to dismiss brought by neo-Nazi and white supremacist defendants. Judge Moon explained that the plaintiffs have shown the groups came to Charlottesville in August to “implement and then celebrate racially-motivated violence against African-Americans, Jews, and their supporters.”

According to a release by the firm representing the plaintiffs, the case will likely go to trial next year, CBS 6 reported.

“In America, it is not lawful to target individuals or groups for violence based on their race, ethnicity, or religion,” said Karen L. Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. “The court has now made perfectly clear in a way defendants will be unable to ignore or gloss over: the First Amendment does not protect violence of threats to do violence.”

In his decision, Moon wrote that the torch-lit rally on the University of Virginia Grounds on Aug. 11, and the violence at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue in front of the Rotunda constituted intimidation, much as the U.S. Supreme Court has said cross burnings are intimidating.

The lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of 10 people hurt during the violence of Aug. 11 and 12, including a Christian minister, minority students at UVA, an African-American landscaper, a Jewish dermatologist, and three of the people hit by James Fields, Jr. when he drove into a crowd of counter-protesters.

The defendants in the case include prominent members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, including Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell and Fields. One defendant was dropped from the case, Mike Peinovich.

To read the full opinion, click here.