Nearly six years after marching across the Grounds of the University of Virginia carrying flaming torches and shouting phrases including “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” some of those marchers appear to have been hit with felony indictments for violating Virginia law against burning to intimidate.
“These indictments were issued as part of a criminal investigation that is active and ongoing,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley said in a statement announcing the actions by an Albemarle County grand jury, which has jurisdiction over UVa’s Central Grounds.
Hingeley, who declined to respond to inquiries on Monday from The Daily Progress, did not name the criminal suspects or say how many there were. Likewise, Albemarle Circuit Court clerk Jon Zug was tight-lipped about the charges, which he said were sealed.
“I cannot release sealed indictments until I’ve gotten confirmation that the people have been served,” Zug told The Daily Progress. “At that time, I’ll be able the release the names.”
Ever since the Unite the Right rally-turned-riot on Aug. 12, 2017, which brought hordes of neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates onto the streets of Charlottesville and claimed the life of anti-racist counter-protester Heather Heyer, there have been efforts to punish the racists.
The murder conviction of James Alex Fields Jr., the Ohio man who struck Heyer with his Dodge Challenger, was not widely controversial. But the question of whether to criminally charge the torch-bearing marchers who traveled to Grounds the day before has proved more divisive.
Then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci asserted that Virginia’s law banning burning as intimidation — written to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from burning crosses to terrorize Black people — asserted that he couldn’t prosecute because the law asserts that an “object” must be burned.
However, University of Virginia law professor Anne Coughlin noted that some of the torch-wielders surrounded and then struck some of counter-protesters gathered at the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda on Grounds on Aug. 11, 2017. Coughlin has long argued that failing to bring charges was dereliction of duty.
“I still stand by what I said then, with nothing new to add,” Coughlin told The Daily Progress on Monday in an email.
Virginia has no statute of limitations on felony charges. Conviction under the Virginia Code is rated as Class 6 felony and can bring a penalty up to five years in jail.