By Denise LaVoie and Michael Kunzelman | Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. Nine people who sued white nationalist leaders and organizations for violence in a deadly demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017 won a $ 26 million sentence for the injuries and trauma they endured. But whether they will be able to raise a significant portion of that money is still unknown.
Many of the accused are in prison, in hiding or have been dropped out of the white nationalist movement. At least three of the far-right groups mentioned as accused have been disbanded. And most of the defendants claim that they will never have the money needed to pay the sentences over them.
“I have no assets. I have no property. You cannot get blood from a stone,” said Matthew Heimbach, who co-founded the far-right Traditionalist Worker Party with his accused Matthew Parrott. Their neo-Nazi group fell apart , after Heimbach was arrested in 2018, accused of assaulting Parrott, his wife’s stepfather.The men had quarreled over Heimbach’s alleged affair with Parrott’s wife, according to court documents.
Heimbach said he is a single father of two young sons, works in a factory and lives on paycheck. He said the plaintiffs’ attorneys who sued him “just wasted $ 20 million trying to play Whac-A-Mole with public galleon figures.”
Months before the trial, Richard Spencer, one of the most famous white nationalists in the country, told a judge that his fame has made it difficult for him to raise money for his defense against the “economically crippling” trial. He said the case has been “extremely costly” and a “heavy burden” for him.
Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extreme right-wing extremists. After the verdict was announced on Tuesday, Spencer said he now views the alt-right as a “completely dysfunctional institution with dysfunctional people” and claims he has been disgusted with “much of it.”
The whereabouts of two defendants, Andrew Anglin and Robert “Azzmador” Ray, are unknown.
Anglin, founder of a neo-Nazi website called The Daily Stormer, has not paid any part of a August 2019 verdict to orchestrate an anti-Semitic harassment campaign against a Montana real estate agent’s Jewish family. A federal judge handed down a default judgment against Anglin after he failed to appear for a deposit. Other plaintiffs’ attorneys, including those in the Charlottesville civil case, have also secured default judgments against Anglin.
In September 2020, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon issued an arrest warrant for Ray, a neo-Nazi podcaster who wrote for Anglin’s website. Moon agreed to hold Ray in civil contempt of court for his “total disregard” of court rulings.
Even with the many obstacles to collecting the full $ 26 million verdict, there are ways to secure at least some of it. Typically, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek court orders to seize assets, decorate salaries, and place mortgages on property owned by defendants.
Several of the defendants’ lawyers said they would try to reduce the price.
Attorney James Kolenich, who represented three defendants, including James Kessler, the lead organizer of the convention, said although some of the white nationalist organizations have some assets, “I do not think any of them can afford to pay for these damages. out of pocket. .”
“We will do what we can to cut it down to size,” he said.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at CSU San Bernadino, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys may be able to recover some of the damages due to the large number of defendants mentioned in the trial. The jury handed down the $ 26 million verdict against 17 defendants; the judge handed down absenteeism sentences against a further seven defendants before the trial.
“What’s different about this case is that you have a wide range of defendants. Some of them are currently incarcerated or in distress, but they may have assets, (insurance) policies or real estate that could be recovered,” Said Levin.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization that funded the lawsuit, said the group is “committed to ensuring that our plaintiffs can gather these judgments and see the full accountability they deserve.”
Many of the racists who embraced the alt-right brand for their white supremacy ideology have largely disappeared from public forums since the bloodshed in Charlottesville. The movement began to crumble in the midst of a barrage of lawsuits and internecine struggles among leaders.
Two of the defendants are in jail.
James Alex Fields Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for murder and hate crimes after being convicted of deliberately hitting his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on the second day of the Charlottesville demonstrations and killing a woman.
Christopher Cantwell, who hosts a live-stream talk show called “Radical Agenda,” was sentenced to extortion in September 2020 and sentenced to nearly 3 1/2 years in prison for threatening to rape the wife of a man he believed was harassing. Hi m.
Many of the defendants were beaten from regular social media platforms. Some have chosen to keep a low profile since Charlottesville. Rally organizer Elliott Kline, also known as Eli Mosley, disappeared from the alt-right scene after the New York Times revealed evidence that he lied about his military service.
Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation Leagues Center for Extremism, said the jury’s ruling sends a message that there will be consequences for promoting hatred and violence. ADL financially supported Integrity First for America’s work on the case.
“Accountability cannot be underestimated in a case like this,” Segal said.
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.