Plaintiffs’ attorneys managed to get under the skin of both court observers and U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon in the ninth day of the Sines v. Kessler trial.
Plaintiffs did manage to land some potentially damaging blows in the morning in the form of recorded statements from absent defendant Eli Kline (aka Eli Mosely) and both recorded statements public posts from pro se defendant Richard Spencer.
However, those gains were likely undercut by how plaintiffs grasped at straws later in the afternoon, by trying to take obvious statements of political metaphor as literal.
The day started with the conclusion of the plaintiffs playing Mosely’s video deposition, followed by the plaintiffs calling Spencer to the stand.
In a long and frustrating interrogation, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Bloch established that Spencer is, in fact, a White nationalist, and that he did coordinate with Charlottesville resident and Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler, among others, to organize a legal, permitted political rally.
Bloch seemed particularly bothered by constitutionally protected free speech, and tried to present obvious hyperbole, jokes, memes and metaphor employed by Spencer as if they were literal and serious.
As the examination continued, Bloch did find a number of instances of inconsistencies from Spencer’s prior statements to the jury and in his deposition. However the nature of the way he continued nitpicking Spencer’s answers to the point of exhaustion irritated Judge Moon..
Bloch continued asking questions about things Spencer said, and when Spencer replied that he didn't remember actually saying it, Bloch then tried to play a theatrical “gotcha” game for the jury.
When Spencer tried to explain or contextualize his statements and posts, not substantially denying the words, Bloch would cut him off.
This back-and-forth went on until Judge Moon testily interrupted with, "This is tedious! He's not denying. Just play the clip and then ask him about it!"
Judge Moon chastised Bloch for badgering a pro se defendant, at one point showing an almost hostile tone towards the attorney.
“This is what I’m talking about,” Judge Moon said, exasperated. “Ask the question and get the answer. Don’t go through this long thing just to get the one word.”
Another time Judge Moon shot Bloch down for this behavior.
"Are you testing his memory, or trying to get new evidence into this case, I would really like to know. I really would. I would think you would know that any lawyer worth his salt would know the answer before presenting it to the jury,” Judge Moon said to Bloch. "There's nothing relevant about (this) type of discussion."
At another time, Judge Moon again interrupted Bloch.
“What is the point of what you’re doing when you go through this?” Judge Moon said.
At one point an observer asked, “Is advocating for the interests and benefit of White people on trial now?”
Other defendants’ attorneys raised a number of sustained objections, asking the court how any of the evidence that Spencer is a White nationalist and has sometimes used racial slurs was relevant to making the legal case that there was a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence.
Bloch argued he was laying a foundation, but Judge Moon cautioned him.
At one point, Spencer just scored a solid parry - "Also this was said on Twitter so it screws up your little public/private" coded language narrative.
Spencer also made a good case in the afternoon about the history of Antifa violence and threats against the right-wing, and how it would be natural and prudent to make preparations for self-defense in planning a public event.
As it continued, Judge Moon again demonstrated that he was impatient with Bloch’s meandering, cheeky and hostile questioning.
“Whatever you are trying to accomplish by engaging in this exercise... is getting time consuming. We’ve gone through the exercise enough to get the information you’re trying to get before the jury,” Judge Moon warned.
Later in the day Spencer got the better of Bloch several times, including the absurd moment that Bloch tried to imply nefarious intent behind Spencer tweeting out the Starship Troopers “It’s Afraid” meme using the face of Wes Bellamy in place of the brain bug.
For readers unaware, Wes Bellamy is not a plaintiff, but is the former vice mayor of Charlottesville.
Referencing a document Spencer published the day of the torchlight rally after painstakingly combing through quotes from it, Bloch incredulously asked Spencer, “Is it true Mr. Spencer that this document you posted before was a White supremacist declaration of war?”
Spencer calmly dismissed this melodrama, noting that “war” metaphors are common in political discussions, including the use of the word “campaign” and “defeating our enemies” – that it doesn’t mean literal warfare.
The worst of it for Spencer came mid-afternoon, when Bloch did get Spencer to admit he led the Aug. 11 torch march, and that they surrounded the leftists at the statue as a sign of “dominance.” Bloch showed video of Spencer directing people to block the leftists from leaving, and a Tweet where he agreed they blocked the leftists in.
Bloch tried to make it seem like the marchers intentionally went to where the counter-protesting students were to surround and harass them.
However, on Nov. 1, plaintiff Devin Willis, former head of the UVA Black Student Alliance and an activist with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and Black Solidarity, testified that he and others went to the Jefferson statue on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, knowing that the marchers were heading there.
The counter-protesters put themselves in the way of the legal march and considered it aggressive that they were outnumbered and surrounded when the marchers arrived.
Again and again as the day progressed, Judge Moon had to chastise Bloch for unprofessional conduct, implying Spencer was impeaching himself even though his answers to questions were substantially the same as in his previous deposition.
“You just can’t ask and answer and ask the same thing over and over,” Judge Moon said. “Sir, we went through his question and his answer. You went through his deposition and you shouldn’t imply that they’re different.”
Warren Balogh, secretary for the National Justice Party, has been observing the trial daily.
“In this case, even given Richard's almost naively honest and direct answers to the barrage of incredibly dishonest and underhanded questions he's been getting all day from Michael Bloch, it was far better for Richard to testify,” Warren said on his Telegram channel. “Otherwise, the plaintiff's attorneys would've been able to show Spencer only through his most extreme, unflattering and unfavorable quotes, or the impression created of Spencer by the media.
“Instead, the jurors are getting to see Richard Spencer up close and personal for hours, to see how he reacts under pressure, to watch him as he is presented with incredibly embarrassing things, by an extremely aggressive and obnoxious lawyer who clearly thinks he's the hero of some NBC legal drama,” he said. “They can see Richard's flaws and weaknesses but they can also see he is not the supervillain the media and plaintiff's attorneys make him out to be.
“I can't say how the jury will react, but I know many people seeing Richard undergo this ordeal by such a conniving slime ball as this lawyer, will see him as the flawed human being that he is, rather than as a movie villain mastermind who conspired to plan racial violence,” Warren concluded. “I would not be surprised if they come away from the day with a more sympathetic view of Spencer than they did before the day started or if, in the balance, today's performance hurt the plaintiff's case.”
The conclusion of direct examination was as pointless and melodramatic as the whole day had been. Referring to Spencer being quoted in the media as saying the day was a moral victory, even though he has complicated feelings about the day, Bloch asked, “Isn’t it true that you described Charlottesville as a success because you achieved exactly what you set out to do?”
When Spencer emphatically replied, "Absolutely not!" Bloch announced with flourish, “No further questions!”
How this New York lawyer’s very smarmy behavior will play with a largely blue-collar, rural jury of primarily White and black Virginia residents is still to be seen.
After Bloch’s tedious direct examination, defense attorney James Kolenich of Kolenich Law Office, representing Nathan Damigo, Kessler and Identity Evropa, cross-examined Spencer.
Kolenich asked a series of questions designed to ensure that his clients – Kessler, Damigo and Identity Evropa – was distanced from Spencer.
But as questioning went on, Kolenich seemed to be trying to pin a conspiracy on Spencer, but with little success.
Next, defense attorney James Campbell representing James Fields likewise asked a series of questions establishing Spencer had no knowledge or communications with Fields, who was involved in a fatal car accident on Aug. 12. He also established that Spencer considered the event over on Saturday when the state of emergency was declared.
Defense attorney Bryan Jones for Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs and League of the South, established that White nationalism and Southern nationalism are separate things, and that there was no collusion between Spencer and Jones’ clients.
Pro se defendant Christopher Cantwell got Spencer to testify that he wasn’t involved in the leadership or organization of Unite the Right, as he was a personality and podcaster brought in to make a speech.
Cantwell asked a series of questions likewise designed to show the absence of conspiracy. Before he could finish Judge Moon called it a day at 4:55 p.m. ET.
An observer in the court told National Justice that the jury seems engaged despite the day-to-day tedium, with several jurors taking copious notes and some not taking notes at all. They largely haven’t reacted negatively to any spoken slurs or expletives from the transcripts, audio or video played in the court.
As always, National Justice cautions readers that how testimony and evidence is received by outside observers is not necessarily how a jury will receive it. Predicting the outcome of a jury trial is always problematic for that reason.
The trial is expected to last two 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 linchpin 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.