(Reuters) - Eleven people have sued white nationalists whose rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly this summer, saying they suffered emotional and physical trauma from protesters’ threats and violence.
The federal lawsuit filed in Charlottesville late on Wednesday seeks damages from 25 white nationalist individuals and groups alleged to be involved in the Aug. 12 protest, including activist Richard Spencer. It also requests a court order banning them from staging similar rallies.
Those named in the suit went to Charlottesville “to terrorise its residents, commit acts of violence, and use the town as a backdrop to showcase for the media and the nation a neo-nationalist agenda,” the suit said.
Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute. The executive director of that group, Evan McLaren, called the lawsuit “entirely frivolous.”
In an emailed statement, McLaren said, “The political forces opposed to us lack a serious, coherent response to our message and presence, and thus seek to outlaw our ability to speak.”
Two other defendants, rally organizer Jason Kessler and Michael Hill, co-founder of the League of the South, declined to comment.
Among those filing the suit, one had a stroke, two were injured and others suffered psychological and emotional distress when the protest descended into a brawl, the complaint said.
A counterprotester was killed when she was run over by a car driven into a crowd and 19 people were injured. An Ohio man, James Fields Jr., has been charged in the incident and is named in the lawsuit.
The rally in Charlottesville, home to the flagship campus of the University of Virginia, followed months of protests over the city’s proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Unrest has continued to roil Charlottesville, with Spencer leading a torch-carrying rally at Lee’s statue on Saturday. Charlottesville schools were put under partial lockdown on Wednesday after an online threat that police said showed “discontent with recent events” there.
Lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who represented a New York woman in the landmark 2013 Supreme Court case that granted same-sex married couples federal recognition, and Karen Dunn, a former associate White House counsel, are heading the suit.
“The whole point of this lawsuit is to make it clear that this kind of conduct — inciting and then engaging in violence based on racism, sexism and anti-Semitism — has no place in our country,” Kaplan said in a statement.
Charlottesville, joined by a number of businesses and neighbourhood associations, also filed suit in state court on Thursday seeking a court order barring almost two dozen white nationalist individuals and groups from returning to Virginia as paramilitary units.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown