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Vaccination and masking views may influence juror selection in Unite the Right lawsuit

statue loaded onto flatbed
John C. Clark/AP
FR171764 AP
The monument of Stonewall Jackson is hauled away on Saturday, July 10, 2021 in Charlottesville, Va. The removal of the Lee and Jackson statues comes nearly four years after violence erupted at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

*David Streever contributed to this report

Jury selection started on Monday in the civil trial of white nationalists who planned the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Jurors will be asked to consider a federal lawsuit that aims to take down the far-right groups financially and bars them from planning future violent events.

Rich Schragger, a law professor at the University of Virginia, says the juror selection process is difficult with such a high-profile case.

“The views of this event are clouded and shaped by folks' political views,” Schragger said. “So they’re not just questions about what your views are on Antifa or Black Lives Matter or white supremacist ideology, but also views on whether you should mask in the courtroom, whether you are vaccinated.”

More than 30 people were injured during the August 2017 rally. One woman was killed by James Alex Fields Jr., who was found guilty of murdering Heather Heyer after he drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. 

The rally was planned and coordinated at a time when localities began to debate the presence of Confederate monuments in their public spaces.

Four years later, many of the statues that rally organizers wished to defend have been removed, including statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Charlottesville that were at the center of the rally, and a giant statue to Lee in Richmond which first became a rallying point for neo-Confederates, and later for Black Lives Matter activists.

Jury selection will continue Tuesday. The trial is expected to begin Wednesday and last four weeks.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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