Bill Burke

Former Athens County resident Bill Burke during a counter-protest of U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Cincinnati in summer 2019. Photo provided.

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke this week entered into a judgment with a former Athens County man who had sued him in federal court in connection with injuries the man suffered during the white nationalist/white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

As a result, the man, Bill Burke, who now lives in the Dayton area, will be awarded $5,000 from Duke.

The judgment entry – which is technically not the same thing as a settlement – essentially means that Duke will pay that sum in exchange for being released from the lawsuit filed by Burke, who was seriously injured during the Charlottesville rally.

The judgment entry, which was offered by Duke’s lawyer earlier this month and accepted by Burke’s lawyer, reads that it should not be “construed as an admission of liability by Duke, nor is it an admission that plaintiff (Burke) has even suffered damages.”

This is one of the first major conclusions in the civil suit filed by Burke in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Ohio against Duke and a host of other white supremacist and white nationalist figures and organizations, all of whom according to the lawsuit, “conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville” from Aug. 11-12, 2017.

The lead defendant in the case was previously James Alex Fields, Jr., a neo-Nazi who drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, killing a counter-protester named Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others, including Burke. Fields was given a second sentence of life in prison last summer for those crimes (in Charlottesville Circuit Court, following an earlier life sentence in federal court). Fields has since been dismissed from the suit in an amended complaint filed late last year.

Duke’s attorney, Kyle Bristow, of a Michigan-based law firm, said in a press release Thursday that “Duke categorically and vigorously denied the allegations of the complaint,” which alleges that Duke conspired with other white supremacist and white nationalist organizations to organize the “Unite the Right” rally.

“I merely attended a rally to defend the heritage and rights of European-Americans,” Duke said in a statement provided by Bristow. “I have always been dedicated to non-violence and human rights, and I condemn violence.”

Duke has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.”

Athens-based attorney Mike Fradin, who represents Burke, said in a statement Thursday that this is a win for Burke.

“Bill Burke has dedicated his life to fighting back against racism, bigotry and hate speech, despite his status as a white male from Appalachia,” Fradin said. “He is not only a survivor but also a role model for civil rights activists. A civil judgment against the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is a step in the right direction for those who refuse to be silenced or intimidated by white supremacy.”

The lawsuit alleges that Burke suffered serious physical injuries in the attack by Fields, which required and continues to require extensive and expensive medical treatment, and that Burke continues to suffer deep and debilitating psychological and emotional distress.

Despite the judgment entry in Duke’s case, the case is still pending against other defendants including “alt-right” leader Richard Spenser's organization, the National Policy Institute; neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer (known for its articles on Holocaust denial and calls for violence against Jewish people, LGBTQ people and others); and the neo-nazi Traditionalist Worker Party group. The suit also names Gregory Anglin and his son, Andrew, who allegedly run the Daily Stormer through several Ohio-based businesses.

The suit alleges that Vanguard America, which counted Fields as a member, as well as the Daily Stormer and other defendants, helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and called the planning of the rally an incitement to violence for the attendees. 

Duke’s attorney Bristow – who is listed as a white nationalist extremist on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website – said in the statement that Duke and his legal team “vigorously deny” those claims, calling Burke’s claims against Duke a “nuisance,” saying the case was resolved for a “mere $5,000” to avoid the potential for Burke having to pay Duke’s court costs if the suit were dismissed against Duke.

The pending lawsuit seeks injunctive relief preventing the defendants from any “future violations of rights,” as well as $3 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages, or otherwise an amount to be determined at trial.

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