WASHINGTON — A civil trial began on Monday of the organizers of a far-right rally four years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead and 19 injured.
The lawsuit against the organizers seeking financial damages was filed by residents of the Virginia city impacted by the violence that accompanied the gathering.
The “Unite the Right” rally was held to protest municipal plans to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Army of Northern Virginia for the pro-Slavery South during the 1861-65 American Civil War.
It began with a march on the evening of August 11 by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members carrying tiki torches.
Clashes broke out the next day and a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer.
Then-US president Donald Trump came under fire when he said afterward that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protests.
Among the parties to the suit are four people who were hurt in the car attack.
Defendants in the suit are two dozen “individuals and organizations that conspired to plan, promote, and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville.”
“There is one thing about this case that should be made crystal-clear at the outset — the violence in Charlottesville was no accident,” the complaint says. “Defendants spent months carefully coordinating their efforts on the internet and in person.”
“Defendants brought with them to Charlottesville the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of fascism,” the complaint says. “They also brought with them semiautomatic weapons, pistols, mace, rods, armor, shields, and torches.”
The organizers have rejected the charges, claiming self-defense, and argue that they were merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech.
Jury selection began on Monday. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
Anti-racism groups have previously used civil litigation to target extremist groups in the United States and force them into bankruptcy.