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White Supremacists' Trial Over Violent Rally to Invoke KKK Act

Federal lawsuit argues organizers planned the chaos
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2021 4:50 PM CDT
White Supremacists' Trial Over Violent Rally to Invoke KKK Act
Richard Spencer speaks in 2016 in Texas. The white supremacist is named in the lawsuit over the 2017 Unite the Right rally.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

(Newser) – Jury selection began in a federal lawsuit against white supremacists Monday, and the trial's central issue will be whether the violence that left dozens of people injured and one person dead at a 2017 rally was spontaneous or had been planned for months. The case will be heard in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Unite the Right rally was held, the Wall Street Journal reports. A lawyer for the plaintiffs—10 people who were injured—said the trial will reveal intent on the part of the white supremacists. "Most people have no idea the degree of coordination, planning, and hatred involved," Karen Dunn said.

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The suit cites the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a federal law that lets victims of racially motivated violence sue people who attacked them for conspiracy. "What happened in Charlottesville is exactly the 21st-century version of what Congress wanted to prevent," said Roberta Kaplan, the plaintiffs' other lead counsel. One of the defendants, Richard Spencer, has said he promoted the event on social media and carried signs at the rally, but that was about it. "I never planned for Charlottesville to end up in the kind of chaos that it did, and I'm simply not responsible," Spencer said.

Spencer, considered a founder of the alt-right white supremacist movement, said his actions were "classic First Amendment activity." That's the basic argument of the 14 men and 10 organizations being sued. They say the only violence was a result of being attacked by counterprotesters, per the New York Times. Other defendants include James Fields Jr., who was sentenced to life in prison for driving into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer; Vanguard America, the white nationalist group Fields belonged to; two Ku Klux Klan chapters; and the National Socialist Movement, another white supremacist organization. Attorneys for Fields, Vanguard America, and the National Socialist Movement declined to comment.

To make their case that the violence was planned, the plaintiffs' lawyers will cite text message and social media posts about encouraging violence at the rally. Many of the conversations took place on Discord, a website for gamers, that were published by Unicorn Riot, an alternative media site. The discussions are filled with derogatory remarks about Black people, antifa, Jewish people, and Black Lives Matter, per the Journal. In rejecting a bid to have the lawsuit dismissed, a federal judge cited the KKK Act. (Read more Charlottesville, Va. stories.)

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