Hatred On Trial: The Final Verdict

Through the proceedings of the trial for the Unite the Right rally, the jury found the defendants liable for over $26 million in damages. 

The case, known as Sines v. Kessler, is the first major lawsuit in many years to be tried under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. Originally installed following the Civil War to protect African Americans from white supremacy, the act prohibits any discrimination in voting and other rights. 

The nine plaintiffs who were injured during the violent rally in 2017 posited that a group of white nationalists and supremacists had conspired in their plans of violence and aggression. The plaintiffs, all from the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, recounted the events of the deadly rally, including the physical and emotional trauma that occurred during that time. Defendants of the case claimed that they were exercising their First Amendment rights within their organization for the Unite the Right Rally. 

The jury declared financial compensation to the injured plaintiffs in their partial verdict; however, they deadlocked on the more serious presumptions regarding the defendants conspiring of violence on their online platforms. 

The defendants included Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of the rally, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right”, and Christopher Cantwell, also known as the “Crying-Nazi”. The trial included explicit audio of some of the defendants’ use of antisemitic and racial slurs found within their online conversations. 

Although the jury could not reach a final verdict on two federal conspiracy claims, they still found Spencer and the other defendants liable for $500,000 in punitive damages each, as well as five organizations liable for $1 million each. In addition, the jury concluded on the acts of punitive damages on other claims, including assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, thereby awarding more than $25 million to the plaintiffs in this case. 

“Each and every one of [the defendants] was found to be part of a conspiracy, and these award damage numbers send a message,” said Karen L. Dunn, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“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.”

Despite the large financial reward for the plaintiffs, it is unclear whether or not the defendants will be able to afford a lawsuit of this number, as they reported financial difficulties.

“I don’t know how any of the plaintiffs are going to get anything for any of this,” said Joshua Smith, an attorney who represented three defendants. He also considered the hung jury “a win, considering a disparity of resources” and the “politically charged” nature of the trial. 

Amy Spitalnick, executive director for Integrity First for America, the non-profit group that funded the lawsuit, stated that the multi-million dollar decision was a “message” to the rest of the world and that violent hate will not go unanswered. 

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Hi! My name is Hannah Leachman, and I am a WUVA News Reporter, intending on majoring in Media Studies. I will be graduating in the Spring of 2024! You can reach me at hkl9bn@virginia.edu

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