A lawsuit testing First Amendment issues contends that the alt-right movement is responsible for injuries and a death at the Virginia rally. Defendants say the case is aimed at silencing them and destroying them financially.
After last summer’s white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., erupted into violence, the planners of the protest claimed that they had a First Amendment right to self-expression, and that none of the bloodshed was their fault. That narrative of blamelessness is now being tested in the courthouse. In a direct assault on the alt-right movement, a lawsuit contends that the leaders of the Charlottesville gathering engaged in a conspiracy to foster racial hatred, and are legally responsible for 30 injuries and the death of Heather Heyer, the New York Times reports. “There is one thing about this case that should be made crystal-clear at the outset,” the suit says. “The violence in Charlottesville was no accident.”
The 15 individual defendants and the groups they represent have filed motions to dismiss the case in federal court in Charlottesville. The nine plaintiffs — students, clergy members and local residents who say they were hurt — have accused the event’s leaders of plotting to deprive them of their civil rights by encouraging followers to arm themselves and partake in violence. The defendants — an array of neo-Nazis and old-line pro-Confederates — have ridiculed the charges as an act of “lawfare” maliciously intended to silence them and destroy them financially. “The goal here is to break us and keep us from taking to the streets,” said Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement. “That should concern all Americans, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.” The case is likely to explore the limits of the First Amendment’s free-speech provisions and the principle that incitements to violence are not protected. It was filed by New York lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued the United States v. Windsor case in which the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.