The Charlottesville City Council voted Thursday to join a lawsuit to block the return of white supremacists and neo-Nazis whose summer rally erupted into violence, saying the armed protesters constituted a private army that can be denied entry.
Local businesses and community groups filed the lawsuit Thursday in Charlottesville Circuit Court, saying clashes during the August rally — in which one counterprotester was killed in a car attack and two state police troopers died in a helicopter crash — turned the Virginia city into a “military theater.”
The lawsuit, filed exactly two months after the rally, asks a state court to issue an injunction against right-wing protesters to prevent their return, accusing the armed demonstrators of violating state laws by acting as a paramilitary outfit.
“Virginia law clearly reflects the American tradition that private armies are anathema to a well-organized society,” said Mary McCord, senior litigator for Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “Our complaint shows that there are legal tools available to ensure that the streets do not become battlefields for those who organize and engage in paramilitary activity.”
The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the regional law firm MichieHamlett is representing the plaintiffs.
August’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was attended by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and “alt-right” sympathizers, was held to oppose city plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lees from a public park. A legal battle over the statue had been raging for months.
The rally, in which some of the white supremacists carried firearms and other weapons, also attracted a cohort of anti-racism and anti-fascism counterprotesters that clashed with the rally attendees. One of the ralliers plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one woman.
The lawsuit notes that David Duke, a former senior Ku Klux Klan official, and Richard Spencer, a prominent white supremacist, vowed in August to return to Charlottesville. Mr. Spencer in fact held another rally earlier this month.
Several self-described militias and their purported leaders are named as defendants.
The lawsuit says private armies are illegal and the rally organizers, who appeared in uniforms carrying weapons, were “private military forces” that “transformed an idyllic college town into a virtual combat zone.”
“Virginia law has long recognized the threat to civil order and public safety posed by organized groups prepared to use force outside the careful strictures of the Commonwealth’s supervision,” the complaint reads, citing the Virginia Constitution.
In addition to blocking the groups’ return, the lawsuit asks a court to declare them illegal and dangerous militias whose firearms and weapons training amounts to a danger to public safety.
“The laws regulating civilian militias were put in place by our forebears for a crucial purpose,” said Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer. “What Charlottesville saw the weekend of August 12 were armed organizations parading their violence in public and attacking citizens. Such a blatant assault on democratic government itself may be integral to today’s ‘alt-right’ movement, but it cannot be allowed to continue.”
In a separate matter, 11 residents who were injured in the violence filed a claim late Wednesday in federal court in Charlottesville against several rally leaders and attendees. That lawsuit was first reported by The Washington Post.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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