U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court: Civil Rights Case to Proceed Against White Supremacists

James Fields Jr. drove into a crowd in Virginia a year ago, killing one woman and injuring 10 other people protesting a rally of white supremacists.

Heather Heyer died that day, and criminal cases proceeded against Fields. Now a federal judge has ruled Charlottesville plaintiffs may proceed with a civil rights lawsuit against dozens of defendants involved in the violence.

In Sines v. Kessler, the judge said there is enough evidence that the defendants came to the city to "implement and then celebrate racially-motivated violence against African-Americans, Jews, and their supporters."

Racially-Motivated Violence

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege they were injured during two days of violence that surrounded the rally. Some say individual defendants assaulted them with torches, pepper spray, and other liquids. Other plaintiffs were injured when Fields drove through the crowd of counter-protestors.

The defendants include organizers, sponsors, and participants in the alleged attacks. They include the Ku Klux Klan, Vanguard America, and other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

The defendants filed motions to dismiss, but Judge Norman Moon rejected all but one of them. A podcaster, who promoted the event, was dismissed.

"Plaintiffs have, for the most part, adequately alleged that defendants formed a conspiracy to hurt black and Jewish individuals, and their supporters, because of their race at the August 11th and 12th events," the judge said.

Hundreds of Neo-Nazis

The plaintiffs said in their complaint that hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists converged on the college town "to terrorize its residents" and use the town as a backdrop "to showcase a neo-nationalist agenda."

Karen L. Dunn, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said the defendants can no longer "gloss over" their terrorist acts.

"The First Amendment does not protect violence or threats to do violence," she said.

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