Lawsuit filed against Charlottesville protesters

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Nearly a dozen people are suing white supremacists who were protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the summer, alleging emotional and physical trauma from the protesters’ threats and violence.

In the first lawsuit stemming from the protests that left one woman dead and dozens injured, the 11 plaintiffs — some of whom are unnamed, citing their own security concerns — claim they were injured, harassed, intimidated and assaulted by the white supremacist groups in the city.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Virginia Wednesday night.

Twenty-five individuals and groups have been named as defendants for allegedly terrorizing the residents of the city, including alleged white nationalist ringleaders Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer.

The lawsuit is being led by high-profile attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn. Kaplan successfully argued for Edith Windsor in the landmark Supreme Court case striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, granting same-sex married couples federal recognition for the first time. Dunn is a former assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Their lives were ruptured in this horribly dramatic and gruesome way,” Kaplan said. “As of now, very few of them are able to return to tranquility and safety that many of us have taken for granted. It hasn’t stopped, so part of the goal of the lawsuit is to stop it. We’re hoping to give them back their peace.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring these white nationalist groups from staging future rallies in Charlottesville, as well as damages for the plaintiffs’ personal injuries.

“This wasn’t an isolated incident that happened one weekend,” Dunn said. “The people responsible said they’d be back and they’ve already returned.”

Spencer was back in the city Saturday night, leading a tiki-torch- lit rally at Emancipation Park for several dozen followers. The visit didn’t result in any violence, but he pledged to return again. The intimidation isn’t confined to the city’s public spaces: all schools in Charlottesville were on modified lockdown Wednesday after the FBI discovered chatter on social media warning that the city’s public schools could be the next target after referencing the recent attack in Las Vegas.

The lawsuit relies partly on federal civil rights claims as well as a Virginia law that creates a civil cause of action for anyone subject to acts of intimidation or violence if motivated by “racial, religious, or ethnic animosity.”

“It’s unfortunate that statutes that were passed to deal with the rise of the KKK, and burning crosses and lynchings in the south, are being used again in 2017 for people with torches trying to torture and intimidate black people and Jews and other minorities,” Kaplan said.

City officials have previously lamented that they don’t have much power to stop these rallies, citing free speech. After Spencer’s tiki-torch display on Saturday, however, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Singer wrote on Twitter: “You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”

While the city is not a party or formally involved in the lawsuit, the city is preparing its own internal task force to create a plan that would prevent future violent rallies like the one in August.