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Opening arguments heard in Charlottesville as trial against white nationalists proceeds

lee statue
In this Aug. 23, 2017 file photo, city workers drape a tarp over a statue of Robert E. Lee to symbolize the city's mourning over the murder of Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting Unite the Right. Rally goers are standing trial now, 4 years later. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Opening arguments began today in the civil trial against white nationalists who planned the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The long-awaited trial is four years in the making, held up by the pandemic and the struggle to collect evidence from unwilling defendants.

A group of nine residents who were injured during Unite the Right have sued more than 20 white nationalist groups and individuals connected to the rally. The residents say they have ample evidence to prove the defendants, leaders of numerous white nationalist groups and movements, planned to commit racist violence in the city. 

A lawyer for the plaintiffs told the jury that “The evidence is going to show that they wanted to build an army of white nationalists for what they themselves named The Battle of Charlottesville,” before promising to lay out the connections and links between the many defendants.

Attorneys for the defendants say their clients are “knuckleheads” who may use violent and hateful language, but couldn’t have known what was going to happen in Charlottesville.

High-profile defendants like Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell are actually representing themselves in this trial. Cantwell was hauled in from federal prison where he’s serving time on unrelated charges. 

The trial is expected to last through November 19.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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