Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the organizers of a 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia are seeking to invoke a Civil War-era statute in utilizing the defendants’ online statements to prove that they engaged in an illegal conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence. Defendants insist that their actions are protected by the First Amendment, though the judge in this case has declined to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint on free speech grounds. The outcome of this case will likely be a strong indicator of whether and to what extent the statute at issue can be relied upon to curb online hate speech and its consequences.
The rally in Charlottesville drew approximately 600 participants from the far right, who clashed with counter-protesters. After the rally and resulting violence, four rally participants were convicted on federal charges for beating a black man, and one participant was sentenced to life in prison for driving his car into counter-protesters, killing one individual and injuring others. Experts expect the outcome of the case, which is expected to go to trial in the summer of 2020, to turn largely on whether the factual evidence supports the argument that the defendants engaged in an intentional plan to commit race-based violence.
Charlottesville Lawsuit Puts Rising Intolerance on Trial, The New York Times, October 28, 2019
Second Amended Complaint, Sines et al. v. Kessler et al., filed, September 17, 2019
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com / Kim Kelley-Wagner