Today in Sines v Kessler, the civil case against the organizers of the Unite the Right event in August, 2017 in Charlottesville, a jury reached a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that white nationalists conspired to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia with the express purpose of inciting violence.
The First Amendment protects speech and protest, even vile speech and protest. But it does not protect violence, and it certainly does not protect a conspiracy to violently harm people. In August of 2017, we defended Jason Kessler’s right to hold an event we understood would be non-violent. The ACLU protects the First Amendment right of people to speak, even when that speech is sometimes abhorrent. We also actively condemn white supremacy and are committed to building a racially just Virginia. Inherent in our commitment to defend the First Amendment is our knowledge that, when government takes action to curtail First Amendment rights of protesters, it is Black and Brown people who most often receive the brunt of those actions.
These defendants had a constitutional right to spread their hateful message, but they had no right to turn the streets of Charlottesville into a battleground that took the life of one person and injured many others. We fervently condemn these acts of violence and the racist, white supremacist messages underlying them. Our work is infused with a deep commitment to eradicating white supremacy and working for racial justice.