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In mixed verdict, white nationalists forced to pay millions in Unite the Right case

Several prominent white supremacists were found liable in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, rally — though they evaded convictions on 2 of the most serious charges.


A jury Tuesday found multiple white nationalists and white nationalist groups involved in the deadly 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, guilty on some of the charges brought against them in a civil suit. But it deadlocked on the two most serious charges. 

Ultimately, the defendants have been ordered to pay the nine plaintiffs — all from Charlottesville — an amount in excess of several million dollars for their participation in the deadly event. However, the jury was unable to reach a consensus on two federal charges that accused the defendants of conspiring to commit racially motivated violence and having knowledge of such a conspiracy and failing to prevent it.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs hinged their hopes for those two federal charges on the Ku Klux Klan Act, a law first created in 1871 to protect emancipated Black people from racist attacks. The plaintiffs said they’d seek a retrial on those charges. The Unite the Right rally was coordinated in response to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville, and several of the white nationalists and white nationalist organizations in attendance shouted racist and antisemitic rhetoric as they marched. 

Clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, August 12, 2017.
Clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017.Evelyn Hockstein / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Still, Tuesday’s ruling is a costly rebuke to white nationalist groups and their allies, perhaps discouraging some of them from stoking violent attacks in the future. The roughly two dozen defendants include “crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell, the prominent white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, and James Alex Fields Jr., who was convicted of killing counterprotester Heather Heyer at the 2017 rally. Cantwell, Spencer and Kessler were all ordered to pay several hundred thousand dollars to the plaintiffs while Fields was found liable for several million dollars. 

Multiple white nationalists groups have been ordered to pay $1 million each, including Vanguard America, the National Socialist Movement, Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party. 

It remains to be seen whether this verdict will deter other white nationalists from acting on their dangerous fantasies amid the current uptick in violent political rhetoric plaguing the country.

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