The sixth day of the Sines v. Kessler trial saw cross-examination of the second plaintiffs’ witness, where his crafted veneer of innocent motives, non-aggression and claims of “community self-defense” by UVA students withered under sustained assault on cross-examination by defendants.
The morning began with the conclusion of the plaintiffs questioning of Devin Willis, former head of the UVA Black Student Alliance and an activist with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and Black Solidarity.
One problem it appears so far for plaintiffs witnesses is they are trying to paint themselves as innocent students swept up in violence caused solely by “Unite the Right” protesters, who had no knowledge of Antifa tactics and no intent on provoking violence or placing themselves in the path of White nationalists.
In a sense, the amateur efforts of pro se defendants – those representing themselves – seemed an asset, as their more meandering and unpredictable questioning of plaintiffs’ witnesses seems to throw those witnesses off.
On cross-examination, defendants’ attorney Bryan Jones for Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs and League of the South, brought out a number of contradictions in both Willis’ testimony and illegal immigration activist Natalie Romero, who was on the stand Friday.
Jones showed photos of Romero linking arms with a number of male and female activists during altercations in Charlottesville, even though on Friday she claimed she innocently was there only with a group of female students and “moms.”
Jones introduced a planning document that Willis edited for a social justice group – People’s Action for Racial Justice – that mentioned using Justice Park and McGuffey Park as staging areas for something called “direct action” – as distinguished in the document from “nonviolent protest.”
Willis incredibly claimed on the stand that he didn’t really know what “direct action” – the Antifa name for violent and illegal action used to accomplish their political ends – is, but insisted it was a term for legal protest as opposed to “meditation and prayer.” He also claimed he saw no one among counter-protesters wearing Antifa/communist red bandanas or carry flagpoles as weapons, until Jones showed him a series of photos and video where he was surrounded by red bandanas and flagpole bearers.
Further, Willis claimed that the people he was with were primarily students, but Jones got him to admit that in the pictures with him were not students.
He also claimed on the stand that the chant “shut it down!” referred to the park, not the protest, and that his engagement in the chant “Don’t back down!” was encouragement to the local police, encouraging them to police community safety.
Jones also tripped up Willis on whether he was intentionally blocking the road with others – claiming it was his right – but that marchers leaving the park on Saturday could have “gone around them.”
Willis denied that the intention was to block the permitted rallygoers ingress and egress to the park.
Shown the pictures of other armed counter-protesters around him blocking the entrance, Jones asked, "Safe to say this wasn't students eating snacks and reading poetry in the park?"
Willis replied, "That's correct"
Perhaps most importantly, on cross-examination by Jones and pro se defendants Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell, Willis contradicted his earlier claims that he went to the Friday night torch march and Saturday rally wholly unexpecting to directly confront marchers.
Notably, he admitted that when he and other counter-protesters surrounded the Thomas Jefferson statue, they were waiting for the arrival of torch marchers.
Cantwell cheekily pointed out Willis seemed to have a lot of memory problems on cross-examination.
“Everything okay there?” Cantwell asked.
“It’s not okay,” Willis replied.
Willis admitted under oath that he told Daily Progress reporter Michael Bragg that he “was unhurt” on August 11.
Willis did not start claiming any injuries until after anti-White Jewish activist attorney Roberta Kaplan, representing plaintiffs, approached him for the lawsuit.
Cantwell was relentless in pointing out contradictions in the witness testimony, raising several objections from plaintiffs’ attorneys, all but one of which was overruled by presiding U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon.
In prior testimony, both Willis and Romero had said under oath that all the Aug. 11 counter-protesters were “peaceful UVA students.”
But Cantwell showed video of a a number of violent Antifa among both Romero and Willis on Friday night at the torch rally and Saturday at Lee Park.
Cantwell also showed video and got Willis to concede that the counter-protesters were the ones who initiated violence at the Thomas Jefferson statue on Friday night. In the video, Thomas Massey, a member of Philadelphia Antifa member was seen attacking a UTR protester.
Cantwell got Willis, who is suing Cantwell in part because he claims Cantwell’s pepper spray injured him, to admit that three others in the crowd deployed pepper spray and that Willis can’t know that it was Cantwell’s pepper spray that affected him.
Attorney Elmer Woodard, representing UTR organizer Jason Kessler, likewise picked Willis’ questionable testimony apart.
Kessler said on his Telegram that Willis was particularly fixated on him on Friday night, knowing that Kessler was a Charlottesville local and a 2009 UVA graduate.
“I did not see or hear Jason Kessler,” Willis admitted under cross-examination by Woodard.
“What do I have to do with this guy’s alleged ‘injuries?’” Kessler immediately and exasperatedly said on his Telegram.
Willis even admitted that he may not have been pepper sprayed but rather walked through a cloud of previously deployed pepper spray, which isn’t uncommon.
Attorney Josh Smith, representing TWP, Matthew Heimbach and Matthew Parrot, had more opposition from plaintiffs who objected multiple times to his lines of questioning, but he did get Willis to admit under oath that although he claimed earlier to have been “trapped” at the Jefferson monument on the night of Aug. 11 by torch marchers, not only did he not actually attempt to leave, he did not even think about leaving.
The final plaintiffs’ witness to take the stand on Monday was Samantha Froehlich, a self-described “former” White extremist.
Plaintiffs played a recorded deposition of Froelich as evidence, meaning that there would be no opportunity for the defense lawyers or pro se defendants to cross examine what many on the dissident right describe as an “opportunistic snitch.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Dunn told the jury that Froehlich can provide “independent confirmation” of the coming testimony from expert witness Peter Simi’s theories that the UTR planners used “coded language,” based on the fact that she doesn’t know Simi.
Froehlich, however, works for Life After Hate, where Simi is on Life After Hate’s board of directors.
“I can't believe they would just play this prerecorded deposition with no ability to cross-examine,” said Warren Balogh, party secretary for the National Justice Party. “Samantha should at least have to face some of the people she betrayed, and whose lives she helped destroy, face to face in court so they could ask her directly about her lies and distortions. She never believed in anything, she never had a ‘change of heart’ because she didn't believe in anything before or after her ‘conversion,’ like so many paid traitors she only always had one conviction: her own self-interest.
“How disgusting that Kaplan and Co. would hire the services of this seventh rate actress to try to shut down the free speech of honest men,” Balogh said.
National-Justice cautions readers that even an objective reading of the days’ or weeks’ events may be different than how a jury receives it.
Trial resumes at 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday. 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.
At heart in this case, is the 10 plaintiffs and their attorneys who 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.