The National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization, has become the fourth defendant to be sanctioned in a high-profile Unite the Right federal lawsuit.
Filed about three months after the deadly rally on behalf of various Charlottesville-area residents, the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit targets various key organizers and participants. The suit accuses the defendants of conspiring to plan racially motivated violence at the rally in August 2017.
The lawsuit has hit several snags on its way to trial, resulting in several defendants being sanctioned and, in one case, a brief arrest for contempt of court. The National Socialist Front recently joined the growing list of sanctioned defendants after U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe granted the plaintiffs’ request for sanctions.
Specifically, Hoppe will allow the jury to be instructed that they can draw “adverse inferences” from NSM’s failure to provide all requested evidence and documents. The order comes nearly a year after counsel for the plaintiffs asked the court to find that NSM disobeyed a June 23, 2020, order directing them to produce all relevant documents and information within their control.
“Defendant NSM has made clear that it will not fulfill its discovery obligations even under threat of Rule 37 sanctions, including contempt of court,” Hoppe wrote. “A permissive adverse-inference instruction also will allow NSM to defend itself at trial if it wants to and will not have an impermissible ‘spillover’ effect on any Defendant who did not disobey a discovery order.”
Hoppe’s memorandum opinion summarizes various changes in the dynamics of the NSM in the years since the lawsuit was filed, including shifts in leadership following the departure of longtime leader and defendant Jeff Schoep. Despite these changes in the group’s membership, Hoppe wrote that the leaders have been evading their discovery requirements for years.
Despite claims from NSM leader Burt Colucci that NSM complied to the full extent of its ability, Hoppe wrote that the parties produced “ample evidence that Mr. Colucci, acting as Defendant NSM’s managing agent, violated my June 23 discovery order because he did not provide complete and accurate credentials for each Social Media Account listed on NSM’s certification form, including his two ‘active’ nsm88.org email addresses.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Colucci gave the vendor incorrect passwords for both accounts — one of which he used to email plaintiffs’ counsel just two days later — despite certifying under penalty of perjury that this information was ‘true, correct, and complete to the best of his knowledge after he made a reasonable effort to search for and produce all requested information,’” Hoppe wrote. “He quickly deleted those accounts before the vendor could image them and then blamed the vendor for its inability to access the accounts that he personally controlled, when questioned under oath about his conduct.”
Despite arguments from Colucci that the incorrect credentials were not purposefully provided, Hoppe wrote that the incomplete credentials provided for most of the local chapters’ gmail.com accounts and unusable passwords for two “active” organizational email accounts are enough to show that he “failed to obey.”
Following Hoppe’s order, Integrity First for America, an organization funding the plaintiffs, applauded the decision.
“These defendants have tried every possible trick to avoid accountability — and our plaintiffs are committed to holding them accountable,” Integrity First for America Executive Director Amy Spitalnick said in a news release. “Plaintiffs have now won adverse inferences against four defendants, which will have significant impacts in court this fall.”
The plaintiffs also have won adverse inferences against defendants Robert “Azzmador” Ray, Vanguard America and Elliott Kline, also known as Eli Mosley.
According to Integrity First for America, the jury will specifically be instructed to treat as an established fact that Kline “entered into an agreement with one or more co-conspirators” to commit racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, among other facts.
These sanctions followed monetary sanctions against other defendants, as well as bench warrants for the arrest of two defendants found in contempt of court.
The Sines v. Kessler trial is currently set to begin Oct. 25 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.