Three participants in the deadly “Unite the Right Rally” were tried and found guilty today in Charlottesville, Virginia, for misdemeanor charges of failing to disperse after an unlawful assembly was declared by police.
The trio were represented by Elmer Woodard, the colorful attorney who is also representing Christopher Cantwell against multiple felony charges stemming from his alleged use of pepper spray against protesters at a torchlight rally the night before the deadly August 12 rally.
Woodard, with his white, Ebeneezer Scrooge-styled mutton chop whiskers, appeared before Judge Robert Downer while wearing a white late 1800’s-style waistcoat with a black collar. As he entered the courtroom, he removed a straw boater hat with a dashing red hatband.
The defendants included Nathan Benjamin Damigo, founder of the white-nationalist party Identity Evropa; Evan McLaren, executive director of Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute; and John Paul Struys.
While continually rocking back and forth from one foot to the other throughout the trial, Woodard argued that the order to disperse was not lawfully given because circumstances at the rally did not meet the legal requirements, which include the commission of three or more unlawful acts. He argued, in essence, that the riot which millions of people watched live on television was not in fact a riot.
Yet several witnesses testified otherwise.
Charlottesville Police Lt. Brian O’Donnell described witnessing both sides involved in the riot spraying each other with pepper spray, hearing radio traffic about beatings in the street, and witnessing many water bottles containing unknown substances thrown at crowds.
Woodard called alt-right rally organizer Jason Kessler to the stand. Kessler is currently facing a felony charge of perjury stemming from a separate assault case. He described alt-right leader Baked Alaska (real name: Anthime Gionet) being hit in the face with hydrochloric acid during the rally.
Yet, Woodard argued, “Their only evidence that the assembly was unlawful is that a bottle of water was thrown.” The lawyer added: “That bottle of water, it’s still only one guy.”
“It’s bottles of water,” Judge Downer rebuked. “He [Lt. O'Donnell] clearly said more than one.”
Woodard also attempted to argue that because Kessler had paid $25 for a permit, he and his guests were legally protected from removal in the same manner that homeowners and tenants are protected from removal from a home.
“That permit does not indemnify Mr. Kessler and his guests from following the law,” Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nina Antony argued back. “All this is is a permit to be in a park. It does not give him property rights.”
Judge Downer eventually ruled that all three defendants were guilty. He acknowledged that McLaren's defiance was an act of civil disobedience, citing the fact that McLaren lay down on the ground as Virginia State Police approached with a wall of shields. McLaren was given the minimum sentence under the law of a $100 fine; the other two defendants were each sentenced to a $200 fine.
Woodard has already filed an appeal to the Circuit Court where the case will be re-argued in December.