A jury in a civil trial in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville found the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally liable for damages based on a state conspiracy claim as well as a racial, religious, or ethnic harassment claim. The defendants have been ordered to pay over $26 million to a group of nine plaintiffs, including four people injured in the car attack that killed Heather Heyer, the counterprotester who was murdered during the white-nationalist demonstration.
During the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the defendants — who included Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell — were preparing for violence at the “Battle of Charlottesville” ahead of the rally. While the jury agreed that the evidence was proof for a state-level conspiracy charge, the jury deadlocked on two federal conspiracy charges, despite plaintiffs testifying about injuries including three concussions, a skull fracture, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The more serious of the federal conspiracy claims alleged that the defendants were involved in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence. A total of 14 people and ten white-supremacist organizations were named in the lawsuit, but several were not included “because they didn’t show up for court and were the subjects of default judgments,” as CNN notes.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the damages could prevent future violence by holding those involved in the planning financially accountable. “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,” attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said.
However, it’s unclear how much of the $26 million sum plaintiffs will receive. James Fields — the man who intentionally drove his car through a crowd, killing Heyer — is serving a life sentence plus 419 years to avoid the death penalty. Others may not have an easy time coming up with the money. Spencer, who has been ordered to pay $200,000, has described his legal fees in this case alone as “financially crippling.”