Raising $ 26 Million Reward Against. White nationalists can be tough

Matthew Heimbach, center, expresses his displeasure with the media in court in Charlottesville, Va. On August 14, 2017, after a court hearing for James Alex Fields Jr., accused of ramming his car into a crowd at a white nationalist rally. (Source: Associated press)

Nine people who sued white nationalist leaders and organizations for violence at a deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017 won a $ 26 million judgment for the injuries and trauma they suffered. But it remains to be seen whether they will be able to collect a significant portion of this money.

Many defendants are in prison, in hiding or have abandoned the white nationalist movement. At least three of the far-right groups cited as the accused have been disbanded. And most of the defendants claim that they will never have the money to pay the judgments against them.

“I have no property. I have no property. You cannot get blood from a stone,” said Matthew Heimbach, who co-founded the far-right Traditionalist Workers Party with his colleague. Matthew Parrott. Their neo-Nazi group collapsed after Heimbach was arrested in 2018 for assaulting Parrott, his wife’s stepfather. The men had argued over Heimbach’s alleged affair with Parrott’s wife, court documents show.

Heimbach said he was a single father of two young sons, worked in a factory, and lived paycheck to paycheck. He said lawyers for the plaintiffs who sued him “had just wasted $ 20 million trying to play Whac-A-Mole with public figures.”

Months before the trial, Richard Spencer, one of the country’s best-known white nationalists, told a judge his notoriety made it difficult for him to raise funds for his defense of the “financially crippling” trial. He said the case had been “extremely expensive” and “a huge burden” on him.

Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other far-right extremists. After the verdict was announced on Tuesday, Spencer said he now sees the alt-right as a “totally dysfunctional institution with dysfunctional people” and says he was disgusted “by many.”

The fate of two defendants, Andrew Anglin and Robert “Azzmador” Ray, is unknown.

Anglin, founder of a neo-Nazi website called The Daily Stormer, paid no part of an August 2019 judgment for orchestrating an anti-Semitic harassment campaign against the Jewish family of a Montana real estate agent. A federal judge issued a default judgment against Anglin after he failed to show up for a deposition. Lawyers for other plaintiffs, including those in the Charlottesville civil case, have also obtained default judgments against Anglin.

In September 2020, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon issued an arrest warrant for Ray, a neo-Nazi podcaster who wrote for the Anglin website. Moon agreed to hold Ray in civil contempt of court for his “utter disregard” of court orders in the trial.

Even with the many obstacles to collecting the full $ 26 million judgment, there are ways to get at least part of it. Typically, plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek court orders to seize assets, garnish wages, and place liens on property owned by defendants.

Several of the defendants’ lawyers said they would try to reduce the price.

Attorney James Kolenich, who represented three defendants, including James Kessler, the main organizer of the rally, said that although some of the white nationalist organizations have assets, “I don’t think any of them can afford to pay such damages. “

“We are going to do what we can to reduce this size,” he said.

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernadino, said lawyers for the plaintiffs may be able to recover some of the damages due to the large number of defendants named in the lawsuit. The jury handed down the $ 26 million judgment against 17 defendants; the judge rendered default judgments against seven other defendants before trial.

“What is different about this case is that you have a wide range of defendants. Some of them are currently locked up or destitute, but they might have assets, (insurance) policies or property. real estate that might be collectable, ”Levin said.

Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization that funded the lawsuit, said the group was “determined to ensure that our plaintiffs can collect these judgments and see the full responsibility they deserve “.

Many racists who embraced the alt-right brand for their white supremacist ideology have largely disappeared from public forums since the bloodshed in Charlottesville. The movement began to crumble amid a flurry of litigation and internal struggles among the leaders.

Two of the defendants are in prison.

James Alex Fields Jr. received a life sentence for murder and hate crimes after being convicted of intentionally crashing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on the second day of the Charlottesville protests, killing a woman.

Christopher Cantwell, who hosts a live talk show called “Radical Agenda,” was convicted of extortion in September 2020 and sentenced to almost 3.5 years in federal prison for threatening to rape a man’s wife he thought he was being harassed.

Many defendants have been kicked out of mainstream social media platforms. Some have chosen to keep a low profile from Charlottesville. Rally organizer Elliott Kline, also known as Eli Mosley, disappeared from the right-wing scene after The New York Times uncovered evidence he lied about his military service.

Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the jury’s verdict sent the message that there would be consequences for promoting hatred and violence. ADL financially supported Integrity First for America’s work on the case.

“The responsibility cannot be understated in a case like this,” Segal said.

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Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.

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