Almost three years after the deadly Unite the Right rally, lawsuits from survivors continue to slowly move toward resolution.
DeAndre Harris was among the last victims to file suit, submitting his complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Aug. 12, 2019 — two years after the rally and just before the statute of limitations expired.
Harris’ lawsuit names nearly three dozen people as defendants, including lead-UTR organizers Jason Kessler, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, Harris’ six attackers and various white supremacist individuals and organizations.
Similar to federal lawsuits filed by survivors of James Alex Fields Jr.’s car attack, the suit alleges that the defendants — specifically Kessler and Spencer — created a conspiracy to deny Black and Jewish people equal protection under the law, leading to the assault on Harris.
Unlike other lawsuits, the violence Harris suffered came from a different instance. Harris was attacked in the Market Street Parking Garage by six men as the rally was dispersing. He suffered head injuries, and four of the men involved were charged with malicious wounding, for which they have all pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Two men who attacked Harris have yet to be identified but are still being sought by Charlottesville police.
This past spring, defendants Michael Smith, Michael Tubbs, League of the South, Traditionalist Worker Party, Matthew Parrott and Jeff Schoep filed various motions to dismiss the case, essentially arguing that Harris failed to state specific claims against them.
At the end of June, Senior U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon ordered counsel for Harris to explain why the case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute the case and failure to timely respond to dispositive motions, as was required in March.
Counsel for Harris responded a week later, arguing that when there are “well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.”
“Defendants’ arguments rest on the assertion that although third-parties at the Unite the Right rally conspired to act and actually acted in a violent, intimidating, and threatening manner, Plaintiff had not pleaded any facts that Defendants personally conspired to act or actually acted in a concerted manner with these third-party tortfeasors,” the response on behalf of Harris reads. “However, because conspiracies are by their nature ‘secretive operations,’ they frequently ‘have to be proven by circumstantial, rather than direct, evidence.’”
The response goes on to argue that the initial complaint cited enough evidence to implicate each of the defendants in a conspiracy to perpetrate violence by their own acknowledgments that they or the organizations they represented participated in the rally.
“Defendants willingly engaged, organized and participated in the rallies by inciting their supporters and similar organizations to march in Charlottesville,” the response reads. “By choosing to participate in these rallies, Defendants encouraged rather than discouraged or stopped the violence that would cause Plaintiff damages.”
The court has yet to rule on the defendants’ motions to dismiss or the plaintiff’s counter-arguments. No hearings are currently set.
However, counter-protesters are not the only ones with lawsuits working their way through the federal court system.
In July, Gregory Conte, a former member of the white supremacist National Policy Institute, and Pennsylvania resident Warren Balogh had their lawsuit moved to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia after filing it in the wrong venue — the Eastern District of Virginia’s U.S. District Court.
Conte and Balogh are alleging that their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated, an argument that has proven unsuccessful in similar lawsuits from rally participants.
No hearing are currently set in the case.