A federal lawsuit accusing two dozen neo-Nazis and white nationalists of organizing the deadly rally in Virginia last summer with the intention of committing violence has enough legal standing to move forward, a judge ruled Monday.
“Plaintiffs have, for the most part, adequately alleged that defendants formed a conspiracy to hurt black and Jewish individuals, and their supporters, because of their race at the August 11th and 12th events,” wrote Judge Norman Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in his opinion.
The suit was brought by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit, on behalf of 11 residents of Charlottesville who say they suffered physical or psychological injuries as a result of the white supremacist gathering last August, in which a young neo-Nazi rammed his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, sending bodies flying, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a protester, and leaving dozens wounded.
“Hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists traveled from near and far to descend upon the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, in order to terrorize its residents, commit acts of violence, and use the town as a backdrop to showcase for the media and the nation a neo-nationalist agenda,” the complaint, filed October 2017, states.
Roberta Kaplan, a New York-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, is perhaps best known for winning the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a provision in federal law that explicitly banned gay marriage, laying the groundwork for a later ruling that made gay marriage legal nationwide.
“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 or threats to do violence,” said Karen L. Dunn, who is representing the plaintiffs alongside Kaplan, in a statement.
Thirteen of the 25 neo-Nazis and white supremacists are being represented by James E. Kolenich, a Cincinnati-area lawyer committed to protecting white civil rights, and Elmer Woodard, a lawyer from Virginia, who previously appeared in court on behalf of white nationalist Chris Cantwell in a separate lawsuit, wearing an 1800s-style red waistcoat replete with gold buttons, topped off with a straw boater hat. According to people in the courtroom, Woodward wore a rumpled seersucker suit last month and mostly let Kolenich take the lead.
Richard Spencer, one of the nation’s most prominent white supremacists also named in the case, has publicly struggled to pay his own legal bills. He has been banned from most mainstream crowdfunding platforms. Nevertheless, he retained John DiNucci from northern Virginia as counsel.
Cover image: A man makes a slashing motion across his throat twoard counterprotesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)