White Supremacists Claim Free Speech Rights as Charlottesville Trial Opens

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White nationalist protesters at last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Photo by Anthony Crider via Flickr

Plaintiffs in the long-delayed lawsuit in federal court against two dozen organizers of the August, 2017 far-right march in Charlottesville, N.C., are accusing the collection of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klan sympathizers and other adherents of extremist ideology of plotting to foment the violence that left at least 19 people injured and an innocent woman dead, reports the New York Times.

The defendants counter that their views constituted free speech, however offensive others might find it, and that the bloodshed stemmed from self-defense.

The trial, called Sines v. Kessler, after the lead plaintiff and the lead defendant, was set to open Monday, and is expected to last at least four weeks. The lawyers for the nine plaintiffs in the Charlottesville case are hoping that their quest for unspecified financial damages will both punish the organizers and deter others.

They are using chat conversations leaked from Discord, a platform for game enthusiasts, as well as telephone texts, tweets and other social media posts to try to prove that the organizers participated in a conspiracy to foment violence against a racial minority, which is illegal.

Their strategy is anchored in a federal law from 1871 that is often called the Ku Klux Klan Act and is designed to prevent the Klan from denying freed slaves their civil rights. It is one of the few laws that allow people to accuse fellow citizens, rather than the government, of depriving them of civil rights.

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