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Charlottesville jury has a partial verdict in the trial over Unite the Right rally


In Charlottesville, Va., a jury has found a group of white nationalists liable for millions of dollars in damages for their role in a deadly 2017 rally. The jury also reached a mixed verdict on whether some 20 people and hate groups conspired to commit racially motivated violence. Reporter Hawes Spencer joins us from Charlottesville. We'll note, he has no relation to one of the defendants, Richard Spencer. And, Hawes, begin by reminding us what happened in 2017 at this rally that is at the center of this case.

HAWES SPENCER: Yes, Ari, it was supposed to be a rally about a statue, a big equestrian bronze of Robert E. Lee that the city council had wanted to move. But it became a rally of white nationalists, those who want America to be for white people. And listeners might recall them marching with tiki torches and shouting Nazi slogans and, Jews will not replace us.

They drew a lot of counterprotesters, including a 32-year-old woman named Heather Heyer, who was struck and killed by a car operated by Hitler-worshipping man from Ohio. Now, he's now serving multiple life sentences. So - but this was a civil lawsuit by people who were struck by that car and from others who said that they suffered harm at the rally and that weekend and were seeking damages.

SHAPIRO: And what did the jury find?

SPENCER: So the jury deadlocked on the first two federal conspiracy counts. They couldn't unanimously agree that there'd been a federal conspiracy to commit racial violence. But on the allegation of a conspiracy under Virginia law, they ruled against all the defendants.

SHAPIRO: Who brought this case? And what did they have to say today?

SPENCER: So there were nine plaintiffs. And some of them were people who were struck by that car. You may remember that Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of bodies in midair that - when the car rammed the crowd. And some of those who were severely injured and seen in that picture were among the plaintiffs. Others were members of racial minorities, who testified that they felt threatened by the racist chants, the tiki torches and the just general mayhem in the streets. Today, one of their lawyers said she was beyond thrilled with today's verdict. And the group that funded all that legal work said that the trial served to expose the hateful, violent tactics that are at the core of the white supremacist movement.

SHAPIRO: Many people remarked on the behavior of the defendants during the trial, mainly that they apparently showed no remorse. What was their reaction today to the verdict?

SPENCER: Yeah. Throughout the trial, we heard just naked racism. You may recall Christopher Cantwell, the so-called crying Nazi. He, in particular, seemed to use the trial almost as an extension of his racist radio program. He dropped the N-word in his opening statement, and he forced some of the plaintiffs to rewatch videos of themselves in the riots.

And this trial also showed that several defendants expressed solidarity with the Ohio man who killed Heather Heyer with his car. So although the jury awarded several million in punitive damages, the lawyers for the defense seems - seemed optimistic that, because only a state conspiracy was found, that they might be able to lean on Virginia's Supreme Court precedent of capping punitive damages far below the amounts that were awarded today.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Hawes Spencer in Charlottesville. Thank you.

SPENCER: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hawes Spencer