The trial of “Unite the Right” rally organizers continued Nov. 11 and 12, with the plaintiffs calling their final witnesses — Peter Simi, associate sociology professor at Chapman University, plaintiff April Muñiz, nurse Sharon Reavis, neuropsychologist Dr. Nadia Webb and Jeff Schoep, former leader of the National Socialist Movement.
Simi, an expert in extremist movements, testified that violence is central to white supremacist ideology, and said that white supremacy ideology was used to organize the rally.
“The defendants relied on the core characteristics of the white supremacist movement when they organized “Unite the Right” [rally],” Simi said.
Simi also discussed the concept of white genocide theory within the white supremacist movement. Used in white supremacist propaganda, the theory claims that the white race is going to one day disappear because of growing minority populations. During his testimony, Simi articulated the connection between white genocide theory and protestors marching on Grounds on Aug. 11, 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “You will not replace us.”
Plaintiff attorney Roberta Kaplan showed the jury a tweet from James Fields — the man who drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters on Aug. 12, 2017, killing Heather Heyer — that articulated ideas found in white genocide theory. The tweet read “Love your race stop genocide.” Another tweet read “Violence is the only solution. We have no other options. Voting will solve nothing. The police and courts won’t convict.”
Simi also discussed the way that leaders of the white supremacist movement normalized violence by joking about it on Discord servers.
“One of the things a culture of violence needs to do is try to normalize violence,” Simi said.
Defense attorney James Kolenich then cross examined Simi, asking if Simi was a member of Antifa – an anti-fascist protest movement. Kolenich then asked if Simi’s goal was dismantling the “alt-right.”
“Am I interested in helping prevent, in intervening, in violent white supremacy? Absolutely yes,” Simi replied.
The plaintiffs then called the next witness to the stand. Muñiz was a counter-protester on Aug. 12, 2017 and was standing at the intersection of 4th St. and Water St. when Fields drove his car through the crowd of counter-protesters.
“I saw people flying into the air,” Muñiz said. “Shoes and water bottles flying into the air. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”
After the attack, Muñiz was unable to return to work for three months, and a few months after returning to work she lost her job.
“I believe that my personality has changed so much,” Muñiz said. “I was socially reserved and I really … I lost all confidence in my ability to lead and I think [my employer] felt the same way.”
Muñiz had been scheduled for a surgery before the attack, but was unable to have the surgery performed because the doctor told her that it was unsafe because the trauma she suffered affected her body. Instead, she had to restart physical therapy. Plaintiff lawyers submitted the Muñiz’s medical bills as evidence.
Court proceedings continued Nov. 12 with the plaintiffs calling their final witnesses.
Reavis, a registered nurse with a graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling, was called to the stand. Reavis prepared life care plans for four plaintiffs – Thomas Baker, Marcus Martin, Chelsea Alvarado and Natalie Romero. A life plan estimates future costs of the injuries relating only to this case, assuming that there are never any complications. Baker’s future costs are estimated to be $493,000, Martin’s $197,000, Alvarado’s $590,000 and Romero’s plan estimates her future costs to be $311,000.
The next witness was Sines, Class of 2019 School of Law alumna. Sines watched protesters march down the Lawn on Aug. 11, 2017 and went downtown on Aug. 12 to join counter-protestors.
“After the KKK rally, after I had seen what I saw on August 11, I felt like it was even more important to counter-protest,” Sines said.
Sines witnessed and filmed Fields driving his car through counter-protesters. She said she first thought it was an accident until he reversed his car to hit more people.
“In my mind, I can still see it like slow motion,” Sines said. “At first you think it’s an accident … I thought it was an accident, I couldn’t believe anyone would do something like that on purpose.”
After the attack, Sines suffered from insomnia, panic attacks and anxiety. Sines has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder due to the attack.
“I lost the ability to feel safe,” Sines said.
During cross-examination, white nationalist leader and podcast Christopher Cantwell — a defendant representing himself after his attorneys dropped him — questioned Sines about her actions on Aug. 11 and 12 and then asked her if she knew what antifa was. Sines responded that she had a vague idea but did not then and does not now have a clear idea of what antifa is.
Cantwell played a video filmed by Sines of counter-protestors from Aug. 12, 2017, where a chant of “a-anti-antifascista” can be heard in the background. In the courtroom, Cantwell began dancing along to the video until Judge Norman Moon asked him to stop dancing.
The next witness was Dr. Nadia Webb, who evaluated the medical records of the plaintiffs for psychological harm and traumatic brain injury. Webb said the plaintiffs met the criteria for severe post-traumatic stress disorder and three of them had traumatic brain injuries.
Defendants cross-examined Webb on the severity and reasoning for the plaintiffs post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses. Webb explained that stressors for PTSD can include both experiencing a traumatic event or witnessing a traumatic event.
The next witness was Schoep, former leader of the National Socialist Movement. The National Socialist Movement is also a defendant in this case and is a white supremacist organization. The organization is classified as a hate group by the Southern Law Poverty Center and Colucci has led the movement since March 2019.
Schoep left the movement in Aug. 2019 and denounced white supremacy, now classifying himself a “peace advocate.” Earlier this year, Schoep told the court that his phone had “accidentally” fallen in the toilet, which made it impossible to recover potential evidence from his phone. The plaintiffs questioned Schoep about the planning for the rally on Aug. 12 and towards the end of the day, defendants ran out of time for cross-examination.
Week four of the ‘Unite the Right’ trial continued Monday up with the cross-examination of Schoep, who said his only involvement in the rally was attending it and encouraging NSM members to attend.
“I had no role in planning the Unite the Right rally,” Schoep said.
The next person called to the stand was Jason Kessler, defendant and Class of 2009 alumnus. Plaintiff lawyer Karen Dunn examined Kessler, asking about the planning of the rally.
One text from Kessler to Spencer, Class of 2001 alumnus and white nationalist leader who conceived the term “alt-right” and spoke at the “Unite the Right” rally from June 5, 2017 — reads, “We’re raising an army my liege. For free speech, but the cracking of skulls if it comes to it.”
Kessler testified that he communicated with Spencer, and other known white supremacists — Matthew Heimback, head of Traditionalist Workers’ Party, Dillon Hopper, head of Vanguard America, Michael Hill, former leader of the League of the South and Schoep.
Kessler also testified that he spoke with Cantwell at least thirteen times in the leadup to the rally. His testimony established that he planned the torch march on Grounds that occurred Aug. 11, but that Elliott Kline — also known as Eli Mosley, leader of white nationalist group Identity Evropa — and Spencer ended up taking control of it.
Kessler said Kline “staged a mutiny” against him and took control of the march, later saying that he tried to stop the march once he saw counter-protesters but that Kline had a megaphone and was directing the march to continue.
During cross-examination, Spencer asked Kessler about their working relationship.
“You just were despicable to everyone you ever came in contact with,” Kessler said when asked about what he thought about Spencer. “[You are] like a robot, like a serial killer.”
Cantwell was called to the stand next. Plaintiff attorney Michael Bloch asked Cantwell about his relationship with Spencer, with Cantwell describing Spencer as someone he collaborated with.
Cross-examination of Cantwell continued Nov. 16.