In August, heavily armed white nationalists in matching uniforms roved the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, knocking down crowds of counter-protesters and chanting Nazi slogans. Now the city is taking a stand of its own.
Charlottesville officials, businesses, and neighborhood associations filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday suing the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally as well as the militia groups that guarded them for “unlawful paramilitary activity.”
Pointing to thousands of dollars in lost business and legal and security costs, the terror felt by Charlottesville residents, and the defendants’ pledge to return to the city many more times, the plaintiffs asked the court to intervene so that “roving paramilitary bands and unaccountable vigilante peacekeepers” would be forbidden from taking over their city again.
Relying on an obscure provision of the Virginia Constitution, the plaintiffs asked the court to recognize that there is no “protection under the law” for armed men who stated their intention to commit violence to flood the streets of a city, nor for unauthorized militia groups to take on the role of “peacekeepers.”
Virginia law specifies that “in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
The suit names 22 white nationalist groups, leaders and private militia groups as defendants, including the rally’s primary organizer Jason Kessler, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, League of the South and the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia.
These groups’ penchant for self-promotion and habit of describing their activities in militaristic terms has come back to bite them. Much of the case is built around their quotes to the press and on social media about the “command structures” they used, their extensive preparations for the rally and their eagerness to commit violence.
The suit quotes Eli Mosley, head of white nationalist group Identity Evropa, as saying that he runs his team “as a military organization” and warning police that he would send in “at least 200 people with guns” if they did not let ralliers enter Emancipation Park to collect equipment left behind.
It also quotes Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Richard Preston as threatening to “shoot that fucking nigger” while brandishing a pistol, which he then allegedly fired at a counter-protester.
The lawsuit explicitly notes that both peaceable right to assemble and gun ownership are protected activities, but that serving as “members of a fighting force” unsanctioned by the government is not.
“In Charlottesville today, as through centuries of American tradition, the government alone retains a monopoly on the organized use of force,” it reads.
The suit describes in detail the heavy weaponry that white nationalists brought to the rally, including semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifles, body armor and Kevlar helmets, as well as the way group leaders issued commands to their subordinates to smash their shields into clergymembers and other counter-demonstrators.
“The Alt-Right Defendants did not come to Charlottesville merely to espouse their controversial ideas in a public park,” the complaint reads. “They came to coerce and terrorize.”
It is separate from another lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Charlottesville by eleven residents injured during the chaotic rally. That suit names a number of the same groups, including Vanguard America and League of the South, as defendants, and seeks monetary damages and a ban on similar paramilitary-style white nationalist rallies.
Read the full complaint below: