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‘Unite the Right’ Rally Organizers Ordered to Pay $25 Million in Damages to Victims

Members of the Ku Klux Klan face counter-protesters as they rally in Charlottesville, Va., July 8, 2017 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A Charlottesville jury ordered the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally to pay $25 million in damages on Tuesday to those they found suffered harm by the event. While the jury concluded that the victims, including many wounded and one who died, are owed compensation, the panel did not determine that the far right-wing leaders are guilty of a federal conspiracy to orchestrate a racially-motivated attack at the march.

Attorney for the plaintiffs Roberta Kaplan, disagreeing with the verdict, said that she will refile the federal claims against the defendants as to the federal conspiracy charges.

“We think the facts were established. We think that the finding of liability in count 3 showed a conspiracy,” Kaplan told the press outside the courthouse.

Despite the jury ruling only partially in favor of the plaintiffs, Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of nonprofit Integrity First for America which launched the case said the verdict was a victory for rooting out “violent hate” in America. Since the rally and since assuming office, President Biden has declared white supremacy and domestic terrorism the chief threats facing the country and key priorities of his administration.

“This case has sent a clear message: Violent hate won’t go unanswered. There will be accountability,” Spitalnick told BuzzFeed News after the trial concluded. “Over the court of this trial, our plaintiffs presented overwhelming evidence that the violence was no accident. We’re heartened that the jury agreed.”

In the trial, the plaintiff’s burden of proof was “preponderance of the evidence,” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” meaning they had to demonstrate that there was a 50.1 percent possibility that the plaintiffs’ allegation was true.

In arguing the conspiracy claim, the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint that those principally involved in the right-wing rally premeditated violence, coordinating ahead of time “to intimidate, harass, incite, and cause violence to people based on their race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.”

The plaintiffs attempted to invoke the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which empowers victims of racially motivated violence to sue in the face of organized plots to commit violence, such as the former white supremacist terrorist group did with African Americans throughout the South in the postbellum period.

On August 11 and 12, 2o17, right-wing protesters, some of whom were neo-Nazis and alt-right ideologues, paraded through Charlottesville, Virginia, skirmishing with opposition protestors at the Thomas Jefferson monument, the removal of which the University of Virginia approved in September 2020.

The leaders of the march claimed that they showed up to protest the plans to dismantle the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Over the next day, the rally erupted into violence when participant James Fields plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters with his vehicle, killing a woman and wounding dozens more.

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