CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Jurors heard opening statements Thursday in a civil lawsuit that accuses white nationalists of conspiring to commit violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Karen Dunn, a lead attorney for nine people who are suing over physical and emotional injuries they received, told the jury that the white nationalists planned the violence for months ahead of the rally.
But a lawyer for Jason Kessler, a white nationalist who was the lead organizer of the rally, said the online communications relied on by the plaintiffs’ lawyers are protected by the First Amendment.
Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12, 2017, ostensibly to protest city plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The federal lawsuit accuses some of the country’s most well-known white nationalists of orchestrating a conspiracy to commit violence against Blacks, Jewish people and others.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages against two dozen white nationalists and organizations and a judgment that the defendants violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.
James Alex Fields Jr., a self-avowed Hitler admirer, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens. Fields is serving life in prison on murder and hate crimes charges. He is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The trial is expected to last about a month.