‘Unite the Right’ trial jurors hear closing arguments in Charlottesville

FILE – In this Aug. 12, 2017, file photo, a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP, File)

By Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. (AP) — Lawyers for nine people hurt during the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville told a jury Thursday that white nationalists “planned, executed and then celebrated” racially motivated violence that killed one counter-protester and injured dozens more.

Their arguments in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville came in a lawsuit alleging that two dozen white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremist organizations conspired to commit violence during two days of demonstrations.

During their closing presentation, plaintiffs’ attorneys showed the jury dozens of text messages, chat room exchanges and social media postings by the rally’s main planners. Some were filled with racial epithets and talk of “cracking skulls” of anti-racist counterprotesters.

FILE – In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Richard Spencer, who leads a movement that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

“We sued the people who were responsible — the leaders, the promoters, the group leaders, the people who brought the army, the people who were the most violent members of the army. Those are the people who we ask you to hold accountable today,” said attorney Karen Dunn.

Lawyers for the defendants began making their closing arguments Thursday afternoon.

Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on Aug. 11-12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

During a march on the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists surrounded counterprotesters, shouted “Jews will not replace us!” and threw burning tiki torches at them. An avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car into a crowd the next day, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.

James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving life in prison for murder and hate crimes for the car attack. He is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks monetary damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Dunn told jurors that although the defendants have attempted to distance themselves from Fields, many of them talked before the rally about their belief that if counterprotesters blocked traffic or were in the way, “you were allowed to plow them over.”

Lawyers for the defendants have argued during the monthlong trial that there was no conspiracy, and their use of racial epithets and blustery talk in chat rooms before the rally is protected by the First Amendment. Several defendants have testified that they resorted to violence only after they or their associates were attacked. They’ve blamed the violence on anti-fascist protesters known as antifa, and also each other.

The trial has featured emotional testimony from people who were struck by Fields’ car or witnessed the attack, as well as plaintiffs who were beaten or subjected to racist taunts.

The lawsuit is being funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

Other defendants include some of the nation’s most well-known white nationalists, such as Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right;” Jason Kessler, the rally’s main organizer; and Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist known as the “crying Nazi” for posting a tearful video when a warrant was issued for his arrest.