William Burke

Inset photo: Bill Burke of Athens County recovering in a hospital bed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Background photo by Aaron Cohen.

A former Athens County resident was awarded more than $2.4 million by a federal judge this month following a lawsuit he filed in connection to severe injuries and trauma he sustained at the 2017 “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

William Burke will be paid by The National Policy Institute the amount for lost wages and benefits, past and future medical expenses, punitive damages, as well as for emotional distress, according to federal court documents.

The National Policy Institute is a white supremacist and alt-right group based in Virginia, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it as a hate group. Also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit is Andrew Anglin, creator of the Ohio-based neo-Nazi internet forum The Daily Stormer.

The defendants in the lawsuit failed to respond. The order issued by Judge Michael Watson of the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division was a default judgment.

"Bill is not only a survivor but also a devoted advocate for civil rights and equality," said Athens attorney Mike Fradin, who represented Burke in this case and others. "I hope that this victory will help in his pursuit to dismantle white supremacy."

Burke, who now lives in Dayton, sustained several injuries after Ohio resident Alex Fields Jr. drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, including Burke, who were demonstrating the white nationalists’ march on Charlottesville. 

Following the attack, according to the court order, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and required the use of a cane to help him move while a knee injury healed. Additionally, he has lingering headaches, memory loss and speech issues. 

Since 2017, Burke spent nearly $30,000 in medical expenses related to treatment at the hospital, physical therapy and treatment with his family physician, according to court documents.

Burke also experienced emotional trauma after witnessing the death of Heather Heyer, who was struck by Fields’ vehicle, the lawsuit alleged. As a result, Burke suffers from sensory overload, and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

In addition, the lawsuit said, Burke also suffers from “survivor’s guilt,” a mental condition that happens when people who have survived a traumatic event, when others did not survive, believe they have done something wrong.

Burke “agonized over whether he contributed to or caused the death of Heather Heyer and will live the rest of his life with the vivid image of her death,” the court order said.

Ultimately, due to physical and emotional injury, Burke incurred lost wages and will continue to do so, he testified. He previously worked for a thrift store in Athens, but moved out of the county following the 2017 attack “out of fear for his and his family’s safety,” the court order said.

He was unable to find new employment for about a year. He further testified that his physical and emotional injuries prevent him from working full-time, which creates a lifetime expected loss of wages of more than $375,000, according to the court order.

This development is another victory in Burke’s challenge against white supremacist organizations tied to the Charlottesville rally.

Burke previously sued The Traditional Workers Party, another Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group that “advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems.”

In 2020, he was awarded a judgment entry of $10,000, which followed several attempts by TWP to have the case dismissed.

Burke was also awarded $5,000 two years ago from David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, in a judgment entry.

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