An arrest warrant will be issued for Robert “Azzmador” Ray after the defendant in a Unite the Right-related lawsuit was found to be in contempt of court for repeatedly failing to comply with court orders.
Ray, a neo-Nazi podcaster and writer for the white supremacist blog the Daily Stormer, is among various defendants in the Sines v. Kessler case, a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago on behalf of a slew of Charlottesville-area residents.
The suit, which alleges the defendants conspired to commit racist violence in Charlottesville during the weekend of the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally, has hit snags over the past couple of years as defendants either declined to cooperate or claimed they were unable to do so.
During a virtual hearing Monday, counsel for the plaintiffs outlined arguments for sanctions against Ray, who has not responded to communications or court orders in the last year.
Representing the plaintiffs, attorney Jessica Phillips told the court that Ray had failed to attend two digital depositions, the second of which he was required to by court order. Ray also did not attend Monday’s virtual order, which he also was directed to attend by court order.
According to Phillips, not only has Ray “flouted” the court’s orders, he has failed to respond while still being active on social media accounts he did not disclose during discovery. Ray also has been posting episodes of a podcast he is part of, Phillips said.
Counsel for the plaintiffs also believe Ray is withholding a “trove of documents” that are responsive to the case.
“Through articles that he posted on Daily Stormer, Mr. Ray promoted and facilitated the events in Charlottesville, he encouraged followers to attend Unite the Right with torches, pepper spray and shields,” Phillips said. “He referred to UTR as a war and not a party.”
Ray also is considered a fugitive in Albemarle County after a warrant was issued for his arrest in June 2018 following a grand jury indictment on a charge of illegally using tear gas during the Aug. 11, 2017, torch rally at the University of Virginia.
In the absence of Ray, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said he would find Ray in contempt of court and order a bench warrant be issued, allowing the court to hold Ray in custody until he purged himself of contempt.
“Had Mr. Ray appeared or taken some steps in an attempt to comply with the court and Judge Hoppe’s orders, I would have considered lesser measures to secure full compliance, such as monetary obligations,” Moon said. “But Mr. Ray is still absent from the case and this proceeding and in total disregard of the court’s order.”
Ray will be the second defendant to be held in contempt of court. Earlier this year, Elliott Kline, alias Eli Mosely, was held in custody for several days before purging himself of contempt by handing over responsive documents.
The other topic at Monday’s hearing was when to set the trial date following a delay tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trial originally had been set for three weeks in October. However, counsel for the plaintiffs now anticipates a potential four-week-long trial in order to accommodate jury selection and the plaintiffs’ 50 witnesses.
Moon indicated that a civil trial of that length may not be feasible until August or September of 2021, citing safety risks and the precedence of criminal trials.
However, after a brief back-and-forth, Moon agreed to set a tentative date in April 2021 with a hearing beforehand to address the feasibility. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to complicate judicial matters, Moon said the court will prioritize safety over a sooner court date.