Bill Burke

Inset photo: Bill Burke of Athens County recovering in a hospital bed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, a day after he and others were injured by a car that rammed into counter-demonstrators protesting an alt-right, neo-Nazi event in that city’s downtown area. Background photo: Aaron Cohen took this photo on 4th Street right after the car hit the crowd.

An Athens County man, who was seriously injured in August 2017 when white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist/white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has filed a civil lawsuit against Fields as well as multiple groups involved with organizing that infamous rally.

The lawsuit filed by local resident Bill Burke in the Southern District of Ohio / U.S. District Court lists as defendants a who’s who of American white supremacist, neo-Nazi and white nationalist leaders and organizations.

Defendants include former Ohio resident Fields (who was sentenced to life in prison late last year for the car attack on Aug. 12, 2017, which killed anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer and injured 35 others, including Burke); white supremacist group Vanguard America; prominent white nationalist Matthew Heimbach; far-right neo-fascist organization Proud Boys and its former leader Jason Kessler; white nationalist and “alt-right” leader Richard Spenser and his racist organization the National Policy Institute; white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; and neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer (known for its articles on Holocaust denial and calls for violence against Jewish people, LGBTQ people and others). The suit also names Gregory Anglin and his son, Andrew, who allegedly run the Daily Stormer through several Ohio-based businesses. 

The 64-page initial complaint alleges that all of these people and organizations “conspired to plan, promote and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville,” which took place from Aug. 11-12, 2017.

“They are neo-Nazis, neo-fascist, Klansmen, white supremacists and white nationalists,” Athens-based attorney Mike Fradin wrote of the defendants in the lawsuit. “They embrace and espouse racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideologies. Defendants brought with them the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of fascism. They also brought with them the imagery of imminent violence, including semi-automatic weapons, rifles, pistols, rods, armor, shields, and torches. The chants they vocalized over the weekend included ‘Jews will not replace us,’  ‘blood and soil,’ and ‘this is our town now.’”

The suit alleges that Burke suffered serious physical injuries, which required and continue to require extensive and expensive medical treatment, and that he continues to suffer deep and debilitating psychological and emotional distress that prevents him from “resuming his former life and enjoying the basic sense of peace, safety and tranquility that most people in this country take for granted.”

The main aim of the lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and injunctive relief, is to ensure that “nothing like this will happen again at the hands of the defendants, whether it be in Virginia, Ohio, or anywhere else” in the U.S.

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. 

The suit explains that the defendants and others used multiple channels in the Discord group chat application to organize the rally, and cites numerous examples of public statements made by the defendants espousing white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology in the months leading up to the rally.

 

THE SUIT CITES MULTIPLE Discord channels and examples of chats inside those channels, including alleged rally participants making the following statements leading up to the rally (with the editorial addition of asterisks to some vulgar terms that were spelled out in the complaint):

• “I’m ready to crack skulls.”

• “If you don’t have a flamethrower you’re wrong,”

• “Studies show 999/1000 n*****s and feminists f**k right off when faced with pepper spray.”

• “Bringing women to a protest/rally where we expect violence is f***ing retarded…. even if you aren’t expecting violence, you should prepare for it.”

• “Let there be no mistake – these two sides have irreconciable [sic] differences that will never reach compromise – the only question is the level of conflict to decide the victor.”

The suit cites other posts on Discord talking about the various weapons and tools that the rally participants would bring to the event, including shields, guns, knives, blunt weapons, pepper spray and other items. It also cites messages on Discord relating to people being prepared to “run over” protesters, including a picture of a John Deere tractor captioned, “Introducing John Deere’s new multi-lane protester digestor.”

Burke previously told The NEWS that after being struck by Fields’ truck, he was rendered unconscious, and awoke near Heyer. The suit says he recognized Heyer was dying due to EMT training.

“Plaintiff Burke’s physical injuries include injury to his left knee, the loss of feeling in his left arm, a concussion, traumatic brain injury, and an eye that was swollen shut,” the suit reads. “His treatment thus far has required, at least, an overnight stay in the hospital, a CT scan for his head, a concussion scan, and up to two months of bed rest.” 

The suit also alleges that Burke and his friends and family have been threatened and harassed by the defendants and their supporters, including threatening texts and social-media messages.

The suit 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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