A jury found Richard Spencer and 16 other white nationalist leaders and organizations who organized the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, liable on Tuesday for injuries to counter-protestors and more than $26 million in damages.
The 11-person jury in the Western District of Virginia found Spencer, who has lived part-time in Whitefish, and others engaged in a conspiracy to commit illegal violence and intimidation. The verdict held defendants jointly and severally liable for conspiring to deprive minorities and their supporters of their civil rights, according to a press release from Integrity First for America, a nonprofit that organized the lawsuit.
The suit consisted of nine plaintiffs, including students, clergy, peaceful protestors, and innocent bystanders — all of which Integrity First for America said were victims of a coordinated attack by white supremacists during the 2017 rally that turned deadly after a man drove his car into counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer.
Defendants included Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who has run the now-defunct white nationalist National Policy Institute out of his mother’s residence in Whitefish; Jason Kessler, organizer of the Unite the Right rally; Christopher Cantwell, who was convicted for assaulting counter-protesters on August 11; and James Alex Fields, Jr., who is currently serving life sentences on state and federal charges, including for the death of Heather Heyer, according to the press release.
However, the verdict was not complete as the jury was unable to decide on two federal conspiracy charges. Despite the mixed ruling, co-lead counsels in the case Roberta A. Kaplan and Karen L. Dunn said in a joint statement: “Today’s verdict sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that 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.”
In an Associated Press article, Spencer said he would appeal the decision, saying “the entire theory of the verdict is fundamentally flawed” and that the plaintiff’s lawyers used the case to bankrupt him and the other defendants.
The AP also reported the plaintiffs’ lawyers will refile the suit so a new jury can decide the two deadlocked claims and called the amount of damages awarded from the other counts “eye-opening.”
Heyer’s mom, Susan Bro, who has become an active organizer against the far right since her daughter’s death, said in a statement that she was grateful for the verdict.
“The case brought a lot of information about the planning of [Unite the Right] to light. In addition to bringing these organizations and individuals to account, it sends a message to others that there are consequences to putting hate speech into action.”
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