The fifth day the trial Sines v. Kessler saw the first plaintiffs’ witnesses take the stand and give evidence.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Dunn started the morning telling the jury that the counter-protesters on August 11 during the torch march were "unarmed” when in fact multiple photos exist showing them armed with guns, knives, mace and batons.
The plaintiffs’ witnesses on Friday were two UVA students, one an illegal immigration activist and self-described “Antifascist” and another a Black Lives Matter activist.
The first witness was Movimiento Cosecha activist Natalie Romero, who was blocking the road with other Antifa activists and was injured in James Fields' car accident.
Movimiento Cosecha is an organization that advocates for illegal immigration.
On the stand, Romero said she has terrifying nightmares about the chant "You will not replace us,” which is notable as she advocates for more illegal immigration and White replacement.
Her testimony was very theatrical and designed to be emotional, but said nothing establishing a conspiracy among defendants.
“I just heard loudness... almost like thunder. Like the earth was growling," Romero said about the sound of the torch march coming up the UVA lawn. “The sky was black and the light was coming from below.”
Much of the first half of the day was taken by Romero’s testimony, where they established the facts that she was there on Friday and Saturday, as well as an exhaustive and maudlin recounting of the extent of her injuries after she was hit by James Fields’ car while standing in the road and blocking traffic as part of the violent Antifa counter-protest.
On cross-examination by defendants and attorneys, Romero’s theatrically dramatic memory that seemed almost coached quickly disappeared, with the witness unable to recall key and obvious details.
She also seemed eager to downplay her extensive left-wing and Antifa political activism.
When asked how UTR organizer Jason Kessler caused her damages she said, “He gave speeches and stuff.”
Cautioning that it’s difficult to know how a jury will receive testimony and cross-examination, pro se defendant Christopher Cantwell appeared to catch Romero in a number of contradictions and incredulous statements, including that she doesn’t follow politics despite her political activism on behalf of illegal immigrants, despite her self-identifying as an “Anti-fascist,” and despite the fact she claimed that she wanted to be near Washington D.C. and the White House because she was “interested in history,” not politics.
Despite the ubiquity of helmets, flagpoles, and weapons amongst counter-protesters, under questioning from Cantwell, Romero claimed remarkably that she didn't see any counter-protesters so outfitted.
She also claimed she didn’t want to confront “Unite the Right” rallygoers, despite intentionally joining a group of people specifically going to do that.
She also admitted that fewer than 20 rallygoers out of the hundreds shouted any racial slurs or taunts at her.
Also during Cantwell’s cross-examination, Romero referred to the group she was marching with as “students and moms,” however Cantwell showed they were chanting “Antifascista!” and carrying communist and anarchist flags. Cantwell then asked her if there were babies and puppy dogs there as well.
Attorney Josh Smith, representing TWP, Matthew Heimbach and Matthew Parrot, asked Romero why, if she had such a bad time on Aug. 11 during the torchlight march, why then did she go out Saturday seeking out the rally. She claimed she was on her way to attend other permitted events at Charlottesville parks that day when she arrived at Lee Park, where the UTR rally was to be held.
The next witness for the plaintiffs was Devin Willis, former head of the UVA Black Student Alliance and an activist with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and Black Solidarity. He was among those who formed a human chain around the Jefferson statue on Aug. 11 during the torch march.
He told plaintiff’s attorney that he only went to the July 8, 2017 Klan rally in Charlottesville, strictly out of intellectual curiosity, because he’d never seen a Klansman.
Willis also claimed there was no violence at the July Klan rally, when in fact the Heaphy Report noted that counter-protesters were so violent that police had to bring in riot control officers in full riot gear.
Willis also accused UTR rally-goers of “throwing water bottles full of urine” at counter-protesters – a common tactic used by Antifa and BLM but wholly unknown among White nationalists.
Plaintiff will get a chance to finish with Willis and defense will get a chance to cross-examine Willis Monday.
The 10 plaintiffs and their attorneys allege that the defendants “conspired to commit racially motivated violence” at the legally permitted Unite the Right rally held in August 2017. The 2017 lawsuit – amended in 2019 – lists 20 White nationalist organizations and individuals, including the Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin, Matt Parrot, Matt Heimbach, Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell, the League of the South, the National Socialist Movement, the defunct Traditional Workers Party and Identity Evropa, and at least two chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.
The lynchpin of the plaintiff’s lawsuit is the claim that organizers planned the rally with the purpose of committing violence. The independent Heaphy Report, which plaintiffs have desperately tried to avoid being introduced as evidence in the case, proves this accusation to be a blatant falsehood.
Critics of this lawsuit accuse it of being a SLAPP lawsuit, which is defined as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who protest or speak out on issues of public interest. SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics of the wealthy and powerful by forcing them to spend precious time and money to defend against frivolous legal action.
Roberta Kaplan, the activist Jewish attorney that masterminded the lawsuit has publicly admitted that her intent in all cases she brings is to use the legal system to achieve political ends. Specifically in the case of Charlottesville she has repeatedly said that she wants to shut down free speech.
“One of the reasons why I did this case is to deter other white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others from trying to organize anything like Charlottesville ever again. And making them understand that if they do, these will be the consequences,” Kaplan told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in January, 2021.
Trial resumes at 9 a.m. ET on Monday. The trial is expected to last three more weeks.
This is a civil trial and the jury consists of 12 members with no alternates. Jurors could drop out or be dismissed, but as long as six remain there can be a verdict.
The standard of finding here is a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt. A finding of liability in this court would require a unanimous verdict.