A federal civil trial against the alleged far right-wing ringleaders of the Unite The Right protest Charlottesville in Aug. 2017 is scheduled to begin on Oct. 25 in the Western District of Virginia.
If successful, it could provide a model for future lawsuits to hold extremists accountable for inciting violence.
In online chats, the leaders discussed the coordination of rides, chants, Virginia laws and what gear to take, instructing the participants to prepare themselves for violence and to die if necessary, the plaintiffs argue.
White nationalist Richard Spencer is one of the two dozen defendants named in the federal lawsuit.
Spencer, who popularized the term “alt-right,” and other leaders of the loosely affiliated groups of white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia’s campus on the eve of the rally, shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, the Associated Press reported.
Members of the white supremacist groups fought anti-racist protesters in the streets the next day. Amid the chaos, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr., plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racists, killing Heather Heye , 32, and injuring dozens of other people.
"It was cold-blooded. It was motivated by deep-seated racial animus," Thomas Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said after Fields was given a life sentence in 2019.
The Ku Klux Klan Act, originally used after the Civil War against members of white supremacist groups in the South, allows victims of racially motivated violence to file civil suits against those who conspired against them.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they have obtained leaked conversations from the organizers' pre-rally gathering that proves that the violence was premeditated.
The defendants counter that they were exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon in 2018 rejected that argument in response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
"While the Court acknowledges the weighty First Amendment interests implicated by the 'Unite the Right' events, Plaintiffs here have plausibly alleged conduct that lies 'close to the core of the coverage intended by Congress' when it passed the Ku Klux Klan Act to address violence against racial minorities," Moon wrote, according to NBC.
This legal reckoning, which many feel is long overdue, serves as a consequential moment.
In addition to holding the white supremacist leaders accountable, it’s also a chance to “prevent them from striking again ... by effectively bankrupting and dismantling these groups and their leaders,” Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, a civil rights nonprofit group involved in the case, told BuzzFeed News.