Exactly two years after the Unite the Right rally, the lead organizer of the deadly white supremacist event has again filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville and various officials alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Kessler voluntarily dismissed an earlier lawsuit that similarly claimed his First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights were violated.
The most recent iteration of the lawsuit drops the claim that Kessler’s 14th Amendment rights were violated and adds new defendants and plaintiffs.
In addition to Kessler, the lawsuit adds David Matthew Parrott as a plaintiff. Parrott was formerly the spokesman of the now-largely defunct Traditionalist Worker Party and, along with Kessler, is a defendant in a separate lawsuit filed by area residents against key organizers of the rally.
In addition to the city, Kessler’s lawsuit names Charlottesville Police Department Chief Al Thomas, then-Virginia State Police Lieutenant Becky Crannis-Curl, former City Manager Maurice Jones and current City Manager Tarron Richardson.
All the defendants — save for Richardson — are alleged to have been directly involved in violating the plaintiffs’ rights, according to the complaint. Richardson is named “in his official capacity due to the misconduct of his predecessor in office.” No further factual allegations are made against Richardson.
Similar to previous iterations of the lawsuit, the most recent complaint claims CPD and VSP allowed a “heckler’s veto” by not preventing fights leading up to the declaration of an unlawful assembly.
“Defendants knew, and intended, that Antifa groups would come Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, and, ‘by any means necessary,’ stop or attempt to stop the Plaintiffs from exercising their free speech rights,” the complaint reads. “Defendants planned to, and did, use the expected and foreseeable confrontations between Antifa and Alt-Right to declare the Unite the Right rally to be an ‘unlawful assembly’ or to declare a ‘state of emergency.’ Defendants did this purely due to their objection to the content of Plaintiffs’ speech.”
Citing liberally from the third-party report put together by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy after the rally, the complaint alleges police officials were indifferent to fighting so that an unlawful assembly could be declared. The complaint lays the bulk of the accusations on the shoulders of Jones and Thomas.
“After July 8, 2017, Chief Thomas told his subordinates, ‘I’m not going to get [Alt-Right] in and out’ during the UTR rally. Chief Thomas’ meaning was clear. He would not permit his police officers to prevent Antifa from violently imposing a heckler’s veto again,” the complaint reads.
“Maurice Jones did not order Chief Thomas to abandon his unlawful scheme and prevent Antifa from violently imposing a heckler’s veto,” it continues. “Maurice Jones did not fire Al Thomas so real police officers could do their jobs.”
Unlike previous complaints, Kessler’s latest lawsuit focuses on Antifa, dedicating several pages to actions from purported members and allies at the rally, as well as before and afterward. Antifa — a collection of broadly defined antifascist, left-leaning groups — is not named as a defendant, nor are any of the purported members named in the complaint.
However, the complaint alleges that because of the police’s inaction, antifascists were able to effectively prevent the plaintiffs from exercising their freedom of speech.
“Plaintiff Kessler was prevented from speaking, hearing other speakers, and demonstrating in support of his political opinions,” the complaint reads. “Defendants knew Antifa would appear and attempt to shut down the Unite the Right rally. Defendants illegally permitted the heckler’s veto and then used the chaos caused by Antifa to shut down Plaintiffs rally.”
The complainants are seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys fees and prejudgment interest. A trial by jury is requested.
Kessler isn’t the only person to file a lawsuit Monday alleging his constitutional rights were violated.
Local activist and filmmaker Tanesha Hudson, who attended the rally as a counter-protester with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses clergy, filed a lawsuit Monday in Charlottesville Circuit Court. She is alleging that CPD officers and Jones violated her First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights by not giving equal protection to counter-protesters.