WASHINGTON (AFP) – A jury on Tuesday (Nov 23) found the organisers of a far-right rally four years ago in Virginia that left one person dead and at least 19 injured liable for more than US$25 million (S$34 million) in damages.
The award came at the conclusion of a civil suit filed by residents of the city of Charlottesville who were impacted by the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.
The 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 Aug 11 by neo-Nazis and White supremacists 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.
The jury which heard the month-long civil case deadlocked on two federal conspiracy charges but found the defendants liable for civil conspiracy and other claims under Virginia state law.
The jury awarded a total of more than US$25 million in damages against 12 individuals and five neo-Nazi and White nationalist groups including the National Socialist Movement and Vanguard America.
Mr Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the verdict is “a message that this country does not tolerate violence based on racial and religious hatred in any form”.
“And that no one will ever bring violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, ever again because they now know what will happen if they do,” he added.
In a joint statement, the nine plaintiffs said their hope “is that today’s verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy”.
Then-president Donald Trump came under fire when he said after the violence in Charlottesville that there were “very fine people on both sides”.
The organisers who were the target of the civil suit denied the charges, arguing that they were merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech.
Anti-racism groups have previously used civil litigation to target extremist groups in the United States and force them into bankruptcy.