‘Unite the Right’ rally: Fewer white supremacists, weapons laws to limit violence
The mayhem of Charlottesville was a year ago, but many of those charged with inciting or participating in the race-tinged clashes have yet to face final justice.
While most of the attention remains on James Alex Fields Jr., the man police say plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one of them, at least a dozen others faced charges.
Some had the cases dropped, several have been found guilty or agreed to plea deals, and others are still awaiting trial with this weekend’s one-year anniversary looming.
Another “alt-right” rally is planned for Sunday, although after Charlottesville denied a permit, the rally moved north. Jason Kessler, one of the organizers, told The Washington Times it will begin in Northern Virginia and then move to Lafayette Park, outside the White House.
Counterprotesters also have vowed to turn out, raising the specter of a repeat.
Yet experts say that’s less likely, both because of stricter weapons laws in the District of Columbia and because the white supremacists who provided most of the manpower for the alt-right marchers last year have fragmented in the aftermath, divided over tone and tactics.
“Some of the groups have imploded,” said Mary McCord, a law professor at Georgetown University. “There are other groups that might be now a little bit worried that their images have been tainted.”
Gary Sigler is one of those who says his group was wrongly aligned with the “alt-right.” As the state commander for Maryland III% People’s Militia, he said he was in Charlottesville to prevent violence between the two sides, part of a group dubbed the C-ville 32.
He also denounced the anniversary rallies planned for this weekend.
“We find it to be a horrible and insulting fact that they would even think about such a thing. No member of the C-ville 32 will be attending this coming weekend’s events,” Mr. Sigler told The Washington Times.
As Washington prepares for this weekend, Charlottesville is still dealing with last year.
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that was the focal point of the rallies still stands in a city park, protected, at least for now, by a state law prohibiting the tearing down of war memorials.
Charlottesville’s attempt to cover it with a tarp was ended this year by a judge who said it appeared to be an end-run around the anti-tear down law.
Judges also have had to sort out culpability for those involved in the clashes.
In one of the most complicated cases, Alex Ramos and Jacob Goodwin have been found guilty and Daniel Borden pleaded guilty in the beating of a black man in a parking garage. They all await sentencing.
A fourth man accused in the attack, Tyler Davis, has yet to go on trial.
The victim, DeAndre Harris, was actually charged in the incident after a white nationalist protester said he struck first.
Mr. Harris, though, was acquitted after evidence proved he was acting in defense of a friend, who the white supremacist was attempting to spear with a Confederate flag pole.
In yet another complicated case, Richard Preston, a Maryland man who claims to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to shooting a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.
He was reportedly shooting at Corey Long, a counterprotester who became infamous after photos showed him brandishing a make-shift flamethrower an aerosol spray he lit afire at men holding Confederate flags.
Long was found guilty of disorderly conduct in June but is appealing his case.
Three white nationalists also were found guilty of failing to disperse after their rally was declared unlawful. Some observers say that decision ordering the rally to disperse, sending white nationalists streaming toward the counterprotesters fueled the clashes.
Nathan Damigo, JonPaul Struys and Evan McLaren were found guilty in October. The first two were fined $200, and Mr. McLaren $100, for their refusal to disperse.
Police had to break up another counterprotest in October when the three appeared in court.
Chris Cantwell, another white nationalist dubbed the “Crying Nazi” when a viral video showed him choking up after being charged with felonies, pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor assault and battery counts.
He was given a two-year sentence, but most of it was suspended and he was released on time served of 107 days, spent in jail awaiting the trial. He also accepted a five-year ban on coming back to Virginia.
The man charged with first-degree murder of Heather D. Heyer, 32, will stand trial in a state court in November.
James Alex Fields Jr. is also facing multiple hate crime charges from the Justice Department for ramming his Dodge Challenger into a crowd, injuring more than a dozen people in addition to killing Ms. Heyer.
What may appear like a delay in justice for the victims is actually going at a standard pace for the Charlottesville court system, according to a local attorney.
“Relatively speaking, the cases are moving fairly quickly through the court system. There haven’t been significant delays in any of the cases, certainly nothing out of the ordinary,” said Bryan Jones, a Charlottesville lawyer.
Mr. Jones said the reason Mr. Fields’ trial is scheduled later than the others is because his will take several weeks to complete and there’s only one full-time judge at the circuit court, where felonies are tried.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania said Mr. Fields is being held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
In addition to the criminal cases, a rash of civil litigation was filed, leading to about a dozen alt-right groups agreeing not to return to Charlottesville.
Kyle Bristow, a Michigan-based lawyer who helped secure the permits for last year’s rally, said he has no regrets and said he thinks the city should have approved permits for a repeat rally this year, with better police presence to maintain order.
“I would do it all over again one thousand times. Long live free speech. Death to tyranny,” he said.