The neo-Nazis gathered in a safe house a few hours after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. One of their chieftains, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, wanted to say a few words that evening, according to a description of the speech Ray posted online. As the man on the ground for the Daily Stormer, the biggest hate site in the U.S., Ray had been in the middle of the action all day, leading his “Stormers” into battle. Now he wanted to read a fiery speech the site’s publisher, Andrew Anglin, had written for the occasion.
“My brothers,” Ray began, looking at his phone in the dark room. “A day is quickly coming when it is we who will be digging graves.” The neo-Nazis howled their approval. For them, the “Unite the Right” rally had always been more than a protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. It was, as Ray and Anglin put it on the Daily Stormer, a “battle cry” for white nationalism.
“This is our war!” Ray yelled in the safe house. “This has always been our war. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Death to traitors! Death to the enemies of the white race! Hail victory!”
The neo-Nazis got their war. But now they’re being sued by Charlottesville locals who say that Ray, Anglin and an array of other white supremacists — including James Alex Fields Jr., who drove the car that hit and killed 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer; Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally; and several notable white nationalists, such as Richard Spencer — were part of a conspiracy to commit acts of violence, intimidation and harassment against the residents of Charlottesville.
“This is our war! This has always been our war. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
And speeches like Ray’s could hurt them in court.
Several of the defendants in the conspiracy lawsuit, including Ray, have filed motions to dismiss, arguing that they are being targeted for making edgy jokes, expressing controversial beliefs and just happening to get caught up in violence that none of them foresaw. In short, they claim that they were merely peaceful protesters and are trying to shield themselves by invoking the First Amendment.
“The Plaintiffs spend a lot of time detailing racially insulting language on the internet. Apparently, the Court is meant to conclude that this language is equivalent to a conspiracy to commit race-based violence or other actionable misconduct,” Elmer Woodard, a Virginia-based lawyer who is representing several of the white nationalists, wrote in a motion to dismiss.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs, who have pored over thousands of online messages between the defendants and their followers, say that the First Amendment is no shield and that the violence that occurred in Charlottesville was no accident. “It reflected months of extensive, coordinated, and militaristic planning by Defendants and their co-conspirators,” the plaintiffs’ legal team alleged in a court filing on Tuesday.
“The First Amendment does not protect a conspiracy to engage in violence any more than it protects a conspiracy to rob a bank,” said Roberta Kaplan, a New York attorney who conceived of the suit and successfully argued a same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court in 2013.
After the Charlottesville rally last summer, Kaplan was in a state of shock, she told HuffPost. As she considered ways to hold the organizers accountable, she thought of a 20-year old case in which her mentor used civil conspiracy law to argue that a website on which anti-abortion activists posted the addresses of doctors who performed abortions led to the murder of multiple doctors.
Kaplan and her legal team are now trying to prove that the organizers of the Charlottesville rally were part of a conspiracy to violently advance white supremacy by targeting racial, ethnic and religious minorities and their supporters. In order to prove that a conspiracy took place, the plaintiffs have to show that the violence in Charlottesville last August was part of the white supremacists’ plan — rather than an unanticipated result of their rally.
Kaplan and her allies have a wealth of evidence to point to. In addition to the video of Ray’s speech, the lawyers combed through voluminous transcripts from a private server on Discord, a voice-and-text chat application that many of the Charlottesville defendants used to organize the rally and plan logistics. Not long after the rally, the chats were leaked to Unicorn Riot, a volunteer-run media collective. They show the white supremacists discussing how to evade the police, how to use military-style tactics, which weapons to bring, where to meet, how to fund their operations, which Nazi symbols to wear and how to best injure black people, Jews and anyone who might stand in their way, the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in Tuesday’s court filing. Some of the chats even discussed attacking anti-racist protesters with cars.
“In these exchanges, violence was not discussed as a mere remote possibility; it was anticipated, studied, and strategized,” the lawyers wrote, citing a Discord message from Elliott “Eli Mosley” Kline, the former leader of white nationalist organization Identity Evropa and one of the defendants in the case. “Our birthright will be ashes & they’ll have to pry it from our cold hands if they want it. They will not replace us without a fight,” Mosley wrote.
Other notable defendants in the suit include Matthew Heimbach, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after shoving a black protester at a Donald Trump campaign rally; Mike Tubbs, a former Green Beret who did prison time for plotting to bomb black and Jewish businesses; and Chris Cantwell, who showed off his weapon collection to Vice News and said during the weekend of the Charlottesville rally, “I’m carrying a pistol, I go to the gym all the time, I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence.”
““This is obviously not how people react to unanticipated bloodshed. It is how they react when their violent conspiracy achieves its intended results.”
As the plaintiffs note, the defendants didn’t just discuss the potential for violence before the rally, they celebrated after the violence broke out. Anglin joked on the Daily Stormer about Heyer’s death. Spencer told The New York Times that Aug. 12 was a “huge moral victory.” Cantwell told Vice, “it was worth it. Nobody on our side died … none of our people killed anybody unjustly.”
The lawyers for the plaintiffs had a different take. “This is obviously not how people react to unanticipated bloodshed,” they wrote. “It is how they react when their violent conspiracy achieves its intended results.”
And it was how Ray, a violent felon with a long rap sheet, reacted when addressing his crew at the Daily Stormer house shortly after Fields’ car hit Heyer. Ray promised “eternal” war.”
″The day is coming when that beast that has lain dormant for 72 years is going to wake up and tear apart everything in its way,” he said. “And on that day, these kikes are going to wish they had never fucked with us.”
The Stormers hooted. They hollered. They shouted, “Hail victory!” Then they broke into a spontaneous song, a racist rendition from “American History X” set to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic:
“My eyes have seen the glory of the trampling at the zoo. We’ve washed ourselves in niggers’ blood and all the mongrels too. We’re taking down the ZOG machine Jew by Jew by Jew! The white man marches on!”
Read the plaintiffs’ argument as to why the case should go forward:
This piece was updated to clarify details about Unicorn Riot.