Charlottesville Lawsuit Aims to Stop White Nationalist Militias

FILE – This Saturday Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, an armed militia member stands guard at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. The city of Charlottesville joined a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the heavily armed bands of white nationalists and militia groups that descended on the Virginia city for a violent summer rally from returning. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of a deadly white nationalist rally this summer, and a group of local businesses sued nearly a dozen white nationalist associations and their leaders, claiming they formed unlawful paramilitary units that turned the otherwise “idyllic college town into a virtual combat zone.”

Over a dozen businesses joined the city in a complaint filed Thursday in Charlottesville City Circuit Court. They are represented by R. Lee Livingston with local firm MichieHamlett, city attorney S. Craig Brown, and lawyers with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The lawsuit was spurred by violence unleashed there on Aug. 12 when a Unite the Right rally descended onto the city, clashing with protestors over the possible removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate Army.

One counter protestor at the event, Heather Heyer, died after James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car at high speed through a crowded street and hit her.

Just last Saturday, leading white supremacist Richard Spencer organized a torch-wielding mob of over 40 people that marched to the Lee statute.

That evening, he took to Twitter to celebrate the supremacist rally and indicated his group would return.

“Charlottesville 3.0 was a great success and it was a lot of fun. We came, we triggered, we left, we did an in and out flashmob,” Spencer tweeted Saturday. “We’re going to do this again. This is definitely a model which is going to be repeated.”

Charlottesville and the local businesses did not name Spencer in the complaint, but singled out a smattering of organizations which have worked independent of and in conjunction with Spencer in the past.

Defendants include Light Foot Militia groups from Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, as well as American Freedom Keepers, American Warrior Revolution, Redneck Revolt, the League of the South, the National Socialist Movement and specific individuals including Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler.

The city and businesses say in the complaint that they are not looking to restrict the defendants’ “Second Amendment right to arm oneself for self defense,” but aim to “restore the longstanding public-private equilibrium disrupted by defendants’ unlawful paramilitary conduct.”

The activity of white nationalists in the city shows “no signs of abating” since Charlottesville has now taken on “talismanic significance in the white-nationalist community,” according to the 81 page complaint.

Organizing in large groups, donning camouflage, “sporting matching uniforms and weaponry and with command structures to coordinate their actions,” the city alleges the white nationalists violated the Virginia Constitution, which bars paramilitary units.

Article I, Section 13 states, “In all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed, by the civil power.”

“These paramilitary organizations and their leaders (the Alt-Right Defendants) wielded their weapons on Aug. 12 not ‘as individuals’ exercising their Second Amendment rights to self-defense, but ‘as members of a fighting force,’” the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)

In addition, Charlottesville and its co-plaintiffs say that so-called peacekeepers at the August rally were actually “vigilante militia members” carrying assault rifles and “equipped to inflict massive harm upon a moment’s notice from their commanders.”

“Touted as an opportunity to protest the removal of a controversial Confederate statue, the event quickly escalated well beyond such constitutionally protected expression. Instead, private military forces transformed an idyllic college town into a virtual combat zone,” the lawsuit states.

The city and businesses seek a court declaration that the defendants’ conduct violated state law and constituted a public nuisance, as well as an injunction preventing them from repeating that conduct.

The National Socialist Movement and League of the South did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

In a separate 96-page complaint filed in Charlottesville federal court on Thursday, a group of residents sued several of the same defendants named in the city’s complaint.

The residents allege groups like the League of the South, the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Spencer himself have violated their civil rights by conspiring to incite violence and terrorize their community.

Several of the plaintiffs also allege that Fields Jr. – the man accused of killing Heyer – injured them too when he rammed his car through the crowd. Several of the residents cite concussions, broken legs, ankles and wrists, knees and torn ligaments.

One of the plaintiffs, an unnamed Jewish woman, watched as her sister was struck by the vehicle that careened through the crowd, the complaint states. She watched as both of her sister’s legs were broken and she endured severe head injuries.

The plaintiffs, who seek declaratory judgment affirming that the white nationalist organizations engaged in a conspiracy to incite violence and violated their civil rights, are represented by Robert Cahill of the Reston, Virginia firm, Cooley LLP.

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