White nationalist can’t get a lawyer, demands Charlottesville suit tossed
Richard Spencer can’t find a lawyer.
The white nationalist and progenitor of the “alt-right” movement submitted a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit against him and other leaders involved in August’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The violence, which led to dozens of injuries and the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, isn’t Spencer’s fault, he claims in the motion filed Tuesday, which he apparently wrote and signed himself.
The blame falls on the anti-fascists, or Antifa, who showed up to protest his and his cohorts’ ideas, and on the police, who Spencer claims did too little to discourage the violence, he wrote.
“Harsh and bold words, as well as scuffles, are simply a reality of political protests, which are, by their very nature, contentious and controversial,” the 39-year-old wrote. “Free societies, not only in the United States but around the world, accept this as a cost of free assembly and maintaining a vibrant political culture.”
No lawyer in Virginia will take Spencer’s case, he wrote, decrying that the plaintiffs’ well-heeled attorneys seek only to financially cripple him and his fellow defendants with expensive depositions and discovery requests.
“Spencer, by contrast, has searched for legal help and has not been able to find a lawyer in Virginia to take his case, despite the supposed but apparently illusory ethical obligation lawyers have to represent unpopular clients and to assure at least a semblance of a fair trial,” he wrote.
“Massive, expensive, drawn out, and invasive discovery will in itself be a huge in theorem victory for the plaintiffs, and probably the only realistic victory they hope to achieve, given the indigence of the defendants.”
Latest claim is nothing new
Attorneys in the past have tried to take down white supremacists via the courts. In 2008 — years after the Southern Poverty Law Center secured multimillion-dollar verdicts in lawsuits targeting an Aryan Nations leader, the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the United Klans of America — the center’s president said a lawsuit against two Ku Klux Klansmen sought to bankrupt the hate group.
“Our lawsuit seeks justice and compensation for the victim of this brutal hate crime. We also hope that the monetary damages will be sufficient to put the organization out of business and send a strong message to other hate groups and their followers that this type of racial violence will not be tolerated,” SPLC president Richard Cohen told CNN at the time.
High-profile attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn, who are representing the Charlottesville plaintiffs, said in filing their lawsuit in October that they wanted an injunction barring Spencer and his ilk from staging more rallies in Charlottesville, as well as justice for the plaintiffs “whose lives were ruptured in this horribly dramatic and gruesome way,” Kaplan said.
“As of now, very few of them are able to return to tranquility and safety that many of us have taken for granted. … We’re hoping to give them back their peace,” she added.
In his motion to dismiss, Spencer refers to the civil suit as “lawfare” — an attempt to silence speech and financially damage controversial figures. He further characterizes the desired injunction as an attempt to “intimidate defendants from ever again stepping outside the narrow confines of political orthodoxy.”
While the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant’s right to an attorney, it does not generally apply to civil litigation.
Westboro Baptist and flag burning
Spencer claims he was a speaker and participant, not an organizer, of the Unite the Right rally, and all of his actions surrounding the event are protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause, he wrote.
He cites the US Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson, which protected flag burning as speech, and Snyder v. Phelps, which protected the hateful speech of Westboro Baptist Church members who picketed military funerals with signs asserting God hates members of the LGBT community.
The high court, Spencer wrote, has repeatedly ruled that highly offensive speech, such as his own, is most in need of the First Amendment’s sanctuary.
The plaintiffs do not allege that Spencer or his co-defendants caused anyone physical injury, but only emotional distress, shock, injury or trauma, he wrote, stating the lawsuit reveals a modus operandi.
“They quote controversial and contentious statements published by Spencer; they inject sinister motivations; they then conclude that he is somehow responsible for violence that took place at Charlottesville by other parties,” he wrote.
Spencer concedes some of his statements — for instance, “racially or ethnically defined states are legitimate and necessary” — could be deemed offensive or incite anger or sadness, “but such emotions can(not) form the basis of a criminal or civil lawsuit,” he wrote.
Spencer goes on to claim that he acted responsibly, encouraging the protesters to leave the city after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. And while he encouraged participants to come to the rally armed, he urged them to do so “only within the confines of the law.”
Past Spencer events have been “completely peaceful” — on occasion, “suit-and-tie affairs” — but Antifa has injected violence into his rallies of late, necessitating weaponry for self-defense, he claims. Two other Charlottesville events, in May and October, saw no violence, he wrote.
He and his fellow protesters outnumbered Antifa 10-to-1 at an August 11 tiki torch rally, the day before the worst of the deadly protests erupted, he claimed, “so if the participants had desired to engage in a brutal assault, they easily could have done so and inflicted great damage. This simply did not happen.”
Antifa and police to blame, he claims
At least four people were arrested in Charlottesville’s violence. James Alex Fields Jr. faces a first-degree murder charge for allegedly running down protester and paralegal Heather Heyer, 32. Three others were charged, respectively, with carrying a concealed handgun, disorderly conduct and assault and battery.
In his motion, Spencer acknowledged tragedies from that weekend, including the deaths of two police officers in a helicopter crash. He also conceded “small scuffles” and “fisticuffs and battles with improvised weapons took place,” and he mentioned the violence that took the life of Heyer, whose name he misspells.
Yet, again, he casts Antifa and police as the scapegoats.
“Antifa take it upon themselves to attach almost anyone associated with the right or conservatives; they are especially dedicated to attacks or silencing supporters of Donald Trump as well as the Alt-Right, a movement led by Spencer. The Unite the Right rally was thus destined to attack the ire of Antifa agitators,” he said.
In pointing a finger of blame at police, Spencer quotes a city-commissioned study that found, “The Charlottesville Police Department was ill-prepared, lacked proper training and devised a flawed plan for responding to the white supremacist rally.”
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN