Right-wing think tank ordered to pay man hurt at rally $2.4M
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge has ordered a right-wing think tank led by white nationalist Richard Spencer to pay $2.4 million to an Ohio man severely injured during a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally two years ago in Virginia.
Bill Burke, of Athens, Ohio, says he was struck by a car driven by James Alex Fields Jr. — in a crash that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer — during the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. White nationalists were protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Burke says he attended the rally to join a counterprotest.
Burke’s physical injuries, including head and knee injuries and a crushed left arm, still require medical treatment and may be permanent, and he has experienced “severe psychological and emotional suffering,” according to Burke’s May 2019 federal lawsuit.
Burke sued multiple defendants and in recent years received court-ordered payments of $5,000 from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and $10,000 from the Traditionalist Worker Party.
In the 2019 lawsuit, Burke also accused the National Policy Institute, led by Spencer, of helping organize and promote the Charlottesville rally. In a Tuesday ruling, federal Judge Michael Watson handed down the $2.4 million judgment against the organization in an order that also brought the lawsuit to a close.
The order includes $217,613 for past and future medical expenses, $350,000 in punitive damages $500,000 for pain and suffering, and $1 million for emotional distress.
Watson judge noted that Burke separated from his wife in the attack’s aftermath, was out of work for more than a year, can no longer exercise, and suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt because of surviving the attack when Heyer did not.
“The emotional toll this senseless attack has taken on Plaintiff is extreme,” Watson said. “It has impacted virtually every aspect of Plaintiff’s daily life, and he deserves to be compensated for the harm.”
Phone and email messages were left for the National Policy Institute. Despite the ruling, it’s unclear if Burke will ever see money from the judgment.
Although copies of Burke’s complaints were successfully served on the organization, according to court records, no attorney ever entered a court appearance regarding the lawsuit. The court found the group in default a year ago for not defending itself.
“It is important that the judgment is satisfied not only to compensate Bill for his damages but also to disrupt and dismantle an organization that attempts to portray white supremacy as an intellectual endeavor,” Burke’s attorney, Michael Fradin, said in a statement
The “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 12, 2017, drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of Lee’s statue.
In December 2018, Fields was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Heyer and multiple charges for injuries caused to others in the car attack. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 419 years. He is appealing his convictions.
Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, is also serving life sentences after accepting a plea agreement in a separate federal hate crimes case.