Planners of Rally Disclaim Liability for Death and Injuries
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UPDATED: Mar 30, 2018
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The planners of a “white power” rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer have disclaimed responsibility for more than 30 injuries and a death associated with the rally.
As the New York Times reports, the organizers claim that they had a First Amendment right to use racist chants and Nazi iconography. They claim that the violence that resulted wasn’t their fault.
An Ohio man, James Alex Fields, Jr., 20 was arrested and charged with second-degree murder after he allegedly drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators just after the rally dispersed. A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed in the crash, and 19 others were injured.
“Unite the Right”
The rally was promoted as a “Unite the Right” event. Some participants waved Confederate flags and chanted Nazi slogans. Some yelled phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Hundreds of counter-protesters, including anti-fascist groups sometimes called “antifa,” surrounded the rally — some singing spirituals and carrying signs.
Brawling ensued and led to the arrests of three people.
As the Times reports, a lawsuit contends that the organizers of the rally “engaged in a conspiracy to foster racial hatred,” and thus are responsible for the injuries and death.
The case, Sines v. Kessler, was filed last October in Federal District Court in Charlottesville.
The nine named plaintiffs, including students and clergy members who say they were hurt the day of the rally, say that the defendants deprived them of their civil rights by encouraging their followers to arm themselves and engage in violence.
The 15 named individual defendants and the groups they represent — described by the Times as “an array of neo-Nazis, white identitarians and old-line pro-Confederates” — sought to have the case dismissed.
The case is modeled against one brought 20 years ago against a website where anti-abortion activists posted the names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions. That suit, based on civil conspiracy law, was able to prove that the website had led to the murder of doctors.
As the Times notes,
In order to prove that a conspiracy existed, the plaintiffs’ lawyers will have to show that the leaders of the rally worked together in planning and encouraging racially motivated violence. Under the law, if a conspiracy is eventually established, all of its participants can be held accountable for the actions of its separate members.
Calls for Violence
Just before the rally, social media messages from participants were leaked that included calls for violence.
One defendant dismissed such talk as “idle chitchat” and “edgy humor and memes.”
In addition to the civil rights-focused lawsuit, there is a personal injury lawsuit pending against the same defendants.
The US Justice Department has also announced that it was opening a civil rights investigation focused on the events in Charlottesville.
As the Times notes,
Tracing to a law enacted in 1871, the so-called Ku Klux Klan Act criminalizes certain types of politically motivated violence that today would be called terrorism. Some of its provisions require evidence of conspiracy, so they would apply only if investigators turn up evidence that the attacker plotted with others, rather than spontaneously decided to commit violence. One notable provision, however, can cover a defendant who acted alone.