Facing lawsuit, more militia groups agree to avoid Charlottesville

Published: May. 16, 2018 at 2:36 PM EDT
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Three militia groups and their commanding officers who participated in a white nationalist rally last summer in Charlottesville have agreed not to return to engage in coordinated armed activity during another such event.

A law center representing the city of Charlottesville and other plaintiffs announced the consent decrees Wednesday.

According to a release from the Georgetown University Law Center, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the New York Light Foot Militia, the III% People's Militia of Maryland and their commanding officers say they will not return.

The lawsuit was filed in October by the city along with local businesses and neighborhood associations.

The three groups filed consent decrees in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Wednesday, which state the defendant militias and their leaders are "permanently enjoined from returning to Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of a unit of two or more persons acting in concert while armed with a firearm, weapon, shield, or any item whose purpose is to inflict bodily harm, at any demonstration, rally, protest, or march."

Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection says the development brings to 11 the number of defendants who have entered into consent decrees resolving the claims against them in the lawsuit. The case aims to prevent the type of violence that broke out at the August "Unite the Right" rally from happening again.

Earlier this year, the League of the South and the National Socialist Movement and their leaders reached similar agreements.

"The consent decrees entered into by these militias and their commanders provide exactly what the plaintiff neighborhood associations, businesses and the city sought in this lawsuit, an order preventing these groups from coming back and function as private armies outside the control of state authorities," said Mary B. McCord, a senior litigator at the Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The various militia groups claimed they had intended to act as peacekeepers by attending the rally, laws in several states, including Virginia, do not permit such private military organizations to act outside "the comprehensive state-law requirements for using organized force or projecting a willingness to do so," added McCord.

These militia groups, made up of members armed with assault-style rifles, combat boots, body armor and camouflage uniforms similar in style to actual military ones, took up positions near Emancipation Park where the rally was set to take place to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.

Because of the way the militia members were dressed and armed, residents and observers confused them with authorized military personnel.

The release says these groups operated outside the realm of public accountability, which usurped the role of legitimate law enforcement in violation of state law regardless of stated intentions.

There were originally 25 defendants named in the lawsuit, of which Jason Kessler, Elliot Kline, Matthew Heimbach, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard American, and the Redneck Revolt are the ones still facing active litigation.

Several others are considered "in default" because they failed to respond to the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs are now seeking default judgments against them.

Of the 25 defendants named in the lawsuit, the law center says six are actively litigating the case.

A hearing has been scheduled for June 12.

Another hearing is set for July that will deal with a plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction that will be filed next month. The injunction would allow the court to reach a decision before the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which is when Kessler has said he wants to hold another rally.

"Our city, its businesses, and neighborhoods should not be a battleground for mostly out-of-state organizations to engage in conduct that threatens public safety," said local counsel Lee Livingston of MichieHamlett.