More than four years after hundreds of racist white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered for the so-called “United The Right” rally to hold tiki torches and inflict terroristic violence against anyone who opposes them in Charlottesville, Virginia, a jury has found the organizers and organizations involved guilty of federal conspiracy charges … to the tune of more than $26 million.
More than $14 million of that figure was levied against James Alex Fields Jr., the raging white supremacist who is in prison for using his car to plow through counter-protesters and kill Heather Heyer on Aug. 12, 2017, in the tiny college town in Central Virginia.
The verdict also means that the defendants must each pay $500,000. The defendants include such despicable figures as Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who coined the term “alt-right” and was famously seen getting his face punched during a live television interview back in 2017 at a separate event in Washington, D.C.
The case’s outcome means that the defendants — individuals and organizations designated as hate groups — can have their wages garnished, have liens placed on their properties and could even mean some of them will go bankrupt as plaintiffs attempt to collect their payments.
In an indication of the type of effect the ruling will have on the defendants, Spencer alleged in court documents that the lawsuit has already ruined him financially.
The jury was deadlocked on charges that the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence. But the panel did find the defendants liable for state conspiracy claims and subjecting people to racial and religious harassment.
The case was also the first major attempt to use the Enforcement Act of 1871 in a civil suit context. The legislation was the third enforcement act passed to protect the rights of Black people against white supremacist violence.
The lawsuit was brought by people injured during the event in Charlottesville. The plaintiffs claimed that by demanding followers show up to defend the south from non-white people and their allies, the defendants created a scenario that promoted violence directed at people opposing white supremacy.
Jury selection in the case began on Oct. 25 in the civil suit.
It’s estimated at least 30 people were injured over the course of the event.
There has been a debate over whether civil suits are the best course for holding people accountable. but it appears as if this lawsuit accomplished what it set out to do.
“We have had a number of issues with effective returns in criminal trials for reasons ranging from ingrained problems in our legal system that have to do with long histories of white supremacy to all kinds of procedural problems that have derailed justice in one way or another,” University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew said in an interview with NPR ahead of the trial. “Civil trials are a really good tool in hitting the pocketbooks and the membership lists of white power groups.”
The case was one of several taking place concurrently and centered on the topic of race.
The verdict in Charlottsville was delivered just days after a jury found teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who is white, not guilty on five charges, including two counts of first-degree murder, for killing two people and injuring a third during racial justice protests stemming from the police shooting an unarmed Black man in his back seven times last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Charlottesville verdict also came on the same day that a jury began deliberating in the murder case for the three white men involved with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was racially profiled, followed, trapped and shot to death in the middle of a street in broad daylight in Brunswick, Georgia, in what many observers referred to a modern-day lynching.
This is America.