‘Unite the Right’ trial: Closing arguments to begin Thursday in civil case against white nationalists

Virginia

FILE – In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Richard Spencer, who leads a movement that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. A trial is beginning in Charlottesville, Virginia to determine whether white nationalists who planned the so-called “Unite the Right” rally will be held civilly responsible for the violence that erupted. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. (AP) — Jurors in the Unite the Right civil trial are set to hear closing arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to hold white nationalists accountable for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville in 2017.

Lawyers for nine people who were physically injured or emotionally scarred during the two days of chaos allege that the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence. Attorneys for the white nationalists say there was no conspiracy, and their use of racial epithets and blustery talk in chat rooms before the rally is protected by the First Amendment.

Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 11-12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

During a march on the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists surrounded counterprotesters and threw burning tiki torches at them. The following day, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.

The driver of the car, James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving life in prison for murder and hate crimes and lost an appeal of his conviction this week. Fields is one of 24 individuals and organizations named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The trial has featured emotional testimony from people who were struck by Fields’ car or witnessed the attack, as well as plaintiffs who were subjected to racist taunts or beaten.

During their testimony, some of the defendants used racial epithets and proudly espoused their views of white supremacy. They also blamed each other and anti-fascist protesters known as antifa for the violence.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. It is being funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

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