They also tried to pass off some of their remarks as humor, which Peter Simi, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, said was a common tactic by adherents of the extreme right to try to camouflage their goal of sparking another Civil War to create a white homeland.
“What’s your favorite Holocaust joke?” Mr. Cantwell, who was acting as his own lawyer, asked Matthew Heimbach, the former leader of a neo-Nazi organization, on the witness stand. “My favorite?” said Mr. Heimbach, who went on to deny the Holocaust.
Understand the Charlottesville Rally Trial
What is this civil case? This trial takes aim at the organizers of the rally with plaintiffs seeking damages for the injuries they sustained. Lawyers are relying on a federal law from 1871 designed to protect the rights of free slaves against the Ku Klux Klan.
Who are the plaintiffs? The nine plaintiffs include an ordained minister, a landscaper and several students. They are seeking damages for injuries, lost income and severe emotional distress.
Who is being sued? The defendants in the Charlottesville rally civil case are drawn from a range of white nationalist or neo-Nazi organizations, and include far-right figures like Richard B. Spencer, Jason Kessler and Christopher Cantwell. They do not have a uniform defense.
Why does this case matter? The trial will revisit one of the most searing manifestations of how hatred and intolerance that festers online can spread onto the streets. The plaintiffs say they decided to act after there was no broader federal or state effort to hold the organizers accountable.
Defendants openly identified themselves as racists.
Some defendants brazenly acknowledged their animosity toward Black people, Jews and other minorities as well as their admiration for Adolf Hitler. The derogatory slurs they used to describe minorities cropped up in the testimony repeatedly.
Michael Hill, 69, president of the League of the South, an organization akin to the Ku Klux Klan, was asked to read part of a pledge that he had posted on the group’s website. “I pledge to be a white supremacist, racist, antisemite, homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe and any other sort of phobe that benefits my people, so help me God,” Mr. Hill read, avowing, “I still hold those views.”
Nathan Damigo, the former head of a white nationalist group called Identity Europa that rebranded itself as the American Identity Movement after Charlottesville, testified that he was a racist. When the lawyer questioning him pressed Mr. Damigo on the point, his lawyer, James Kolenich, objected. “He has already referred to himself as a racist,” Mr. Kolenich said.
Legally, a conspiracy does not require people to meet together.
Both the lawyers for the plaintiffs and the judge have stressed that in a civil case, meeting the legal standard for a conspiracy did not require a formal agreement between the parties or even that they knew one another. But the violence had to be foreseeable, the lawyers said, highlighting the many social media posts in which the organizers predicted violent clashes with antifa and other opponents.
Jason Kessler, the main organizer of the rally, wrote that he was building an army for the Battle of Charlottesville, for example, writing under a pseudonym that participants should not openly carry weapons. “I don’t want to scare antifa off from throwing the first punch, I want them to start something.”