White supremacists found liable for violence at Charlottesville rally

Clergy were among the plaintiffs who brought the case against the white supremacists.

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 file photo, protesters hold signs in front of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va.  A jury began deliberations Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 in a civil trial of white nationalists accused of conspiring to commit racially motivated violence at the deadly “Unite the Right

(RNS) — A jury has found that a group that helped organized the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is liable for injuries suffered by counterprotesters, awarding a total of $26 million in damages.

The jury was deadlocked on two federal conspiracy charges but found the defendants, including white nationalist activists Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler and Christopher Cantwell, liable for civil conspiracy to commit violence and intimidation under a state law.

“This case has sent a clear message: violent hate won’t go unanswered,” read a statement from Amy Spitalnick, head of Integrity First for America, the nonprofit that organized the case.

Religious leaders and faith-based organizers were among those who counterdemonstrated when white nationalists descended on the Virginia city in August 2017. Faith leaders such as the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a United Church of Christ minister and official, were preaching against white supremacy when right-wing agitators assembled for a torchlight rally at the University of Virginia across the street, screaming “Jews will not replace us!” among other chants.

RELATED: How a rally for the right in Charlottesville emboldened a resurgent Religious Left

Another plaintiff, UCC minister the Rev. Seth Wispelwey, was also among the counterdemonstrators berated by racists the following day, and some clergy members offered pastoral care to the wounded and distraught when a far-right demonstrator later mowed down counterprotesters with his car, killing one, Heather Heyer. The perpetrator, who was also a defendant in the case, is already serving multiple life sentences.

The plaintiffs also issued a collective statement citing the verdict as a victory for victims of right-wing extremists in Charlottesville, which they listed as “everyone else in the Charlottesville community who stood up against hate in August 2017.”

“Our single greatest hope is that today’s verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy,” the statement read.

The Anti-Defamation League also lauded the result.

“We welcome the jury’s verdict today that found the defendants liable in four counts and awarded more than $25 million in punitive damages,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. “This was one of the most important cases against extremists in modern history; it exposed the depths of hate that motivated the defendants and impaired their ability to take further action.”

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