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US jury finds white supremacist conspiracy in 2017 Charlottesville violence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Clashes during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, between far-right militias and counter-protesters. (Photo by CNN)

Organizers of the white supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in 2017 were on Tuesday found liable for more than $25 million in damages for plaintiffs injured during the rally.

But the federal jury remained deadlocked on two separate conspiracy charges over whether organizers conspired to commit racially motivated violence or whether they knew about it and failed to avert it.

Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler and Christopher Cantwell, as well as other white supremacists were ordered to pay the nine plaintiffs $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages for physical and emotional injuries.

"We are thrilled that the jury has delivered a verdict in favor of our plaintiffs, finally giving them the justice they deserve after the horrific weekend of violence and intimidation in August 2017," attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said in a statement.

“Today's verdict sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that the laws of ... this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens,” they added.

The plaintiffs, all hailing from Charlottesville, a bustling city in Virginia, had sued a group of white nationalist activists and organizations in the federal court.

They alleged that the organizers and participants of the far-right deadly rally conspired to commit violence and interfered with their 13th Amendment right to be free from racially motivated violence.

Unite the Right rally was a white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, from August 11 to 12, 2017 with attendance of many far-right militia groups.

The rally took place amid the controversy surrounding the Charleston church shooting in 2015, where a white supremacist killed nine black people, including a state senator, and wounded others.

The rally turned violent after protesters clashed with counter-protesters, resulting in more than 30 injured. It was an event that empowered white supremacists to demonstrate their warped beliefs in public and escape legal action.

During the two-day rally, James Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring many others. Four of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they were hit in the attack, while others said they continue to suffer from deep traumatic disorder from the incident.

Almost half of the damages awarded by the jury are against Fields, who is now serving a life sentence for murder. He was one of those named in the lawsuit as defendants. 

Kessler, a main organizer of the rally, was also named, so were other well-known white supremacists.

The plaintiffs alleged that the nighttime march, where some 300 white supremacists held lit torches, was meant to evoke fear similar to that from Ku Klux Klan and Nazi marches.

The Charlottesville residents sought $7 million to $10 million in damages, while others involved asked for $3 million to $5 million.

"The bravery of the plaintiffs and the horrific injuries that many of them suffered don't prove a conspiracy," defense attorney James Kolenich said in his closing argument. "They've proven to you that the alt-right is the alt-right. They're racist. They're antisemites. No kidding. You knew that when you walked in here."

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