CHARLOTESVILLE – A federal judge ruled Monday that a lawsuit filed by victims, counter protestors and residents against the organizers of a white supremacist rally that left one woman dead last summer can continue.
In a 62-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon said the plaintiff’s “plausibly alleged the defendants formed a conspiracy to commit the racial violence that led to the plaintiff’s varied injuries.”
Defendants in the case include Jason Kessler, a white supremacist and Charlottesville resident, and other event organizers, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups.
According to Moon, his decision to allow the case to continue is less about the merits of the plaintiffs' claim at this point, and more about allowing more time to examinine the evidence and seeing if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Among the incidents that Moon focuses on in his ruling is the torch-lit march that occured the night before the rally at the University of Virginia campus.
While no one was physically injured during the march, a group of the young white men chanting Nazi and KKK slogans such as “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” during the march encircled several of the plaintiffs, threw liquid at them and shouted “The heat here is nothing compared to what you’re going to get in the ovens!”=
“Even if some of the torchlight march could be characterized as expressive conduct, the combination of the torches and this violence was not protected by the First Amendment, and these moving Defendants can be held liable under Virginia’s hate crime statute,” Moon wrote.
Plaintiffs include three different groups.
The first were a group of counter protestors who say they were surrounded during a pre- rally march which saw white supremacists march through University of Virginia campus carrying torches. That march ended with the group encircling a Thomas Jefferson statue and allegedly assaulting counter protestors including Taylor Magill, a John Doe plaintiff who identifies as African American, and Natalie Romero.
The second group consists of those who were injured when Jason Fields drove his car into a group of counter protestors walking away from the rally after police broke up the event. The incident ended with several injuries as well as the death of counter-protest Heather Heyer.
In addition to Romero, who says she was injured by Fields’ car, the other plaintiffs in this group include Marcus Martin whose ankle was broken in the incident, and Chelsea Alvarado, April Muñiz, and Elizabeth Sines who say they witnessed the incident and are pursuing emotional distress claims.
The third group involves local faith leaders Seth Wispelwey and Hannah Pearce who both claim they were injured by Unite the Right organizers and/or attendees over the course of the two-day event.
Defendants in the case include Unite the Right chief organizers Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler. Spencer is accused of organizing the night-before march and encouraging attendance to Saturday’s events while Kessler was the resident who applied for and received the permit for Saturday’s events.