The jury hits the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally with $ 26 million …

(Updates supply; adds details of verdict; adds comments from plaintiffs, lawyers)

By Kanishka Singh and Joseph Ax

Nov. 23 (Reuters) – A federal jury in Charlottesville, Va., Said on Tuesday organizers of the 2017 white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally responsible for injuries sustained by counter-protesters and awarded approximately $ 26 million in damages and interest.

All nine plaintiffs in the case said they suffered physical or emotional trauma during the rally, including four who were beaten up when a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32 years old. old Heather Heyer.

After a four-week trial, the jury ruled in favor of the victims on four of the six charges, but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other two, according to documents filed by the court.

The rally follows months of protests against the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of white nationalists marched to Charlottesville in August 2017, some marching on the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting “The Jews will not replace us!”

Then-President Donald Trump was criticized for initially saying there were “good people on both sides” after the rally turned into violent clashes.

President Joe Biden has frequently cited the torchlight march and Trump’s response as the event that precipitated his decision to mount another run for the White House, after two previous unsuccessful campaigns.

“We are delighted that the jury has returned 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,” the senior co-lawyers of the plaintiffs, Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn, said in a statement.

The two dozen defendants included Jason Kessler, the main organizer; Richard Spencer, the originator of the term “alt-right,” a loose network of groups characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis; and several white nationalist groups.

Joshua Smith, one of the defense attorneys, told reporters he viewed the jury’s inability to reach consensus on two federal conspiracy counts a “victory” given the resource mismatch between the two. legal teams of plaintiffs and defendants.

The victims sued for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Virginia and United States civil rights laws.

The defendants argued that they were exercising their constitutional rights and had obtained a legal permit for the rally, blaming the deadly violence on Fields, the driver who killed Heyer and others.

Fields was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder and hate crimes.

The lawsuit received financial support from a nonprofit civil rights group, Integrity First for America.

In a statement released by the organization, the plaintiffs said: “Our greatest hope is that today’s verdict will encourage others to feel more secure by raising our collective voices in the future in defense of dignity. human rights and against white supremacy. ” (Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Jonathan Stempel in New York; edited by Grant McCool)

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