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Lawsuit settlement could thwart Charlottesville violence

(AP) An organizer of a white nationalist rally that erupted in violence last summer has agreed to “actively discourage” coordinated, armed activity in Charlottesville, the latest agreement reached with extremist groups to help prevent future violence as the city approaches the rally’s first anniversary.

A lawsuit filed by the city of Charlottesville, businesses and neighborhood groups was resolved July 12 after Jason Kessler — an organizer of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally — became the final defendant to sign a consent decree that requires him to use his “best efforts” to discourage coordinated, armed activity at any future rallies in Charlottesville.

Nineteen other defendants signed similar agreements earlier, including right-wing groups the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, The League of the South and the Nationalist Socialist Movement as well as Redneck Revolt, a left-wing group that describes itself as an “anti-racist, community defense” group.

One woman was killed and dozens more were injured at the rally after a man drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalists.

The lawsuit alleged that the white nationalist organizations were functioning as members of a “fighting force” during the rally.

Mary McCord, senior litigator at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, which filed the agreements, say they prohibit the groups from participating in Charlottesville protests and rallies as “unauthorized organized armed groups using force or projecting the ability to do so.”

“The hope is that the defendants who’ve entered these consent decrees will be concerned enough about not violating them that they will either not come back at all, or if they do come back, they’ll come back without any weapons, and certainly, they won’t band together to use their weapons in an organized use of force,” McCord said.

Neither Kessler nor his attorneys returned calls seeking comment July 12.

The Aug. 12 rally was held to protest the planned removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The event drew hundreds of white nationalists and hundreds of counterprotesters to Charlottesville.

The two sides began brawling in the streets before the rally got underway, throwing punches, unleashing chemical sprays and setting off smoke bombs. At least one person fired a gun.

Later, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a car drove into a crowd protesting the white nationalists.

Under the consent decree signed by Kessler, he is prohibited from soliciting individuals or groups to return to Charlottesville as part of a paramilitary group, which is described as a unit of two or more people acting in concert while armed with a weapon or any item whose purpose is to inflict bodily harm.

He also agrees to use his “best efforts” to ensure that attendees comply with that requirement or ask those who do not to leave the event.

A separate lawsuit pending in federal court accuses the white nationalists of violating state and federal civil rights laws.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, faces murder charges in state court and hate-crimes charges in federal court. Police say he drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heyer.

Kessler is currently planning a rally in Washington, D.C., to mark the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally. He is also seeking a permit to hold a rally in Charlottesville. A federal judge has set a hearing for July 24 on his request.

-DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer

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