Kessler, neo-Nazi groups sue Charlottesville over 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally

The plaintiffs are alleging the City, a former CPD chief and a VSP lieutenant violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights

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Jason Kessler and three white supremacist organizations sued the City Wednesday. Courtesy U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is joining forces with three white supremacist organizations to sue the City of Charlottesville for alleged violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to documents filed in federal court Wednesday. The plaintiffs are also suing former CPD Chief Al Thomas and Virginia State Police Lt. Becky Crannis-Curl. 

The three groups — Identity Evropa, the Traditionalist Worker Party and the National Socialist Movement — each advocate for a white ethnostate and participated in the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, which culminated in dozens of injuries and the death of Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer.

This is Kessler’s third lawsuit against the City. He successfully sued in August 2017 after the City denied his permit for the Unite the Right rally, then sued again in March after the City denied his permit for the anniversary Unite the Right rally.  The second suit was dropped in early August after Kessler declared the anniversary rally would be held in Washington.

Approximately 24 white nationalists attended the anniversary rally in D.C., though they were largely outnumbered by thousands of counter-protesters. Kessler did not hold a rally in Charlottesville this August.

An independent report compiled by now-University Counsel Timothy Heaphy found that Thomas allowed violence to occur during the Unite the Right rally in order to declare an unlawful assembly. The presence of an unlawful assembly would have justified Thomas in dispersing the crowd. Heaphy’s report also found that Crannis-Curl gave an order to VSP officers, causing them to abstain from intervening in the conflicts that arose during the course of the rally.

In the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the plaintiffs — represented by Elmer Woodard and James E. Kolenich — said the City failed to protect them while they were protesting, an alleged violation of the First Amendment. The plaintiffs also allege that the City allowed protests by groups with “acceptable” views, violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. 

Beyond that, the suit says Thomas and Crannis-Curl gave orders and were “willful, wanton, malicious, and/or deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.”

Kessler and the other plaintiffs are currently seeking a jury trial. They plan to ask the court for punitive damages from Thomas and Crannis-Curl, a ruling from the court that the City violated the defendants’ constitutional rights and an order enjoining the City’s “heckler’s veto policy.” 

A representative from VSP declined to comment on pending litigation. A City representative was not immediately available for comment.

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