By Baynard Woods
A lawsuit filed last week by Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) seeks to ban alt-right paramilitary organizations that came to Charlottesville for the Unite The Right rally on August 12 from returning to the city.
“The establishment of private armies is inconsistent with a well-ordered society and enjoys no claim to protection under the law,” the suit, filed by ICAP on behalf of the city of Charlottesville, local businesses, and community associations. The plaintiffs include far right groups such as the Traditionalist Workers Party, League of the South, Virginia Minutemen Militia, and Vanguard America, whose shield James Alex Fields was pictured carrying before allegedly plowing his car into counter protesters and killing Heather Heyer. Individual organizers of the Unite the Right rally such as Jason Kessler and Matthew Heimbach are also named as defendants in the suit as are two left-wing groups, Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association.
“When the clergy arrived at Emancipation Park around 9:00 AM on August 12,
2017, they encountered a terrifying scene: a company of heavily armed men clothed in
camouflage and deployed in parallel columns,” the suit reads. The leader of that militia group, Christian Yingling, said he had been invited to the event by its organizers to help provide security and so he assembled “a coalition of various militia units from throughout the East.”
According to the suit, the group was supplied with “semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifles, with spare 30-round magazines; sidearms; tactical shooting glasses; kevlar helmets; combat shirts and pants; AK-47-resistant Level III body armor; pocket knives; nightstick-style batons; combat boots; military-surplus gas masks; and personal first-aid kits.”
Yingling himself carried a semi-automatic rifle and his “unit kept their trigger fingers on or near the triggers of their primary weapons as they stood guard over the Unite the Right rally.”
The suit also offers illuminating details about the alt-right’s planning of the event and their intent to initiate violence, many of which seem to be pulled from their chats on the Discord servers leaked to and released by the anti-authoritarian media collective Unicorn Riot.
Some of the militias, such as the Three Percenters, claimed only to be providing neutral security, but the suit disputes that claim—while also pointing out that it was not legal for a paramilitary organization to provide security.
“Two militia members pointed their assault rifles at someone who shouted, ‘Get out of my town!’ And Richard Preston—the KKK leader who fired his pistol at a counter-protester—had arrived not in Klan gear, but wearing a tactical vest as part of a local offshoot of the Three Percenters (“3% Risen”). According to Preston, ‘I had my AR-15 and a 9 mm. One of my guys had a .45 and another a 9 mm,’ the suit reads.
Both civilians and law enforcement reported confusing militia members with the National Guard or state troopers. At least one man at the rally was dressed like riot police and used long sticks to beat opponents.
Reading the suit, it is chilling how close militia members came, by their own admission, to firing into the crowd. The scope of violent plans laid bare by the suit is stunning.
In the end, the suit claims that “Defendants’ continued unlawful paramilitary activity will cause irreparable harm to Plaintiffs, for which no adequate legal remedy exists” and that “[w]hen Defendants engage in paramilitary activity in public areas independent of any civil authority, their conduct necessarily threatens public health, safety, peace, and comfort, and the general welfare.”
“Our complaint shows that there are legal tools available to ensure that the streets do not become battlefields for those who organize and engage in paramilitary activity,” Mary McCord, an ICAP lawyer, said in a press conference after Charlottesville’s city council voted to join the suit on Oct. 12.
On October 3, the rally’s organizer Jason Kessler was indicted on perjury charges for claiming that a man, whom he hit, struck him first back in January. The man was arrested but video footage showed Kessler’s claims were false.
On October 13, three white supremacists involved with planning the rally were convicted of failure to disperse. Nathan Damigo, who founded Identity Evropa, and JonPaul Struys were each fined $200. Evan McLaren, who runs Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, was fined $100.
Meanwhile, over 200 people are facing 80 years in prison if convicted of eight felony charges for broken windows on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C.