Charlottesville officials are asking a Virginia court to prohibit white nationalist groups and organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally from mobilizing in the city again, in the hopes of preventing future violent clashes like those that occurred Aug. 12.
The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University filed a lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court on behalf of the city of Charlottesville, local businesses and community associations Thursday. The lawsuit accused white nationalist organizations, private paramilitary groups and organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally of violating Virginia state laws by conducting "unlawful paramilitary activity that transformed the city into a virtual combat zone."
The Charlottesville City Council voted Thursday morning to join the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs are asking the state court to prohibit the defendants from descending upon Charlottesville in the future, otherwise, "Charlottesville will be forced to relive the frightful spectacle of August 12: an invasion of roving paramilitary bands and unaccountable vigilante peacekeepers," according to the complaint.
"Virginia law clearly reflects the American tradition that private armies are anathema to a well-organized society," Mary McCord, senior litigator for the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said in a statement. "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."
The 79-page complaint alleged the private paramilitary and white nationalist groups violated several provisions of Virginia law, including a clause in the Virginia Constitution stating "in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
A section of Virginia state law is also devoted to forbidding "unlawful paramilitary activity," and a statute prohibits "falsely assuming the functions of any peace or law-enforcement officer," according to the complaint.
"The laws regulating civilian militias were put in place by our forebearers for a crucial purpose," Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said. "What Charlottesville saw the weekend of August 12 were armed organizations parading their violence in public and attacking citizens. Such a blatant assault on democratic government itself may be integral to today's ‘alt-right' movement, but it cannot be allowed to continue."
The complaint alleged that organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally recruited private militias to attend the event and participants encouraged each another to "prepare for war."
The white nationalist groups and private paramilitary organizations "wielded their weapons on August 12 not ‘as individuals' exercising their Second Amendment rights to self-defense, but ‘as members of a fighting force,'" the complaint stated.
Violent protests erupted in Charlottesville during a "Unite the Right" rally held Aug. 12. There, white nationalist groups clashed with counter-protesters, and one woman was killed after a suspected Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators.
The lawsuit names as defendants nearly two dozen private paramilitary organizations, white nationalist groups, and organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally, including Jason Kessler and Eli Mosley.