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Kessler, Redneck Revolt agree to end paramilitary activity in city

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CDP 0317 Harris 1351.JPG

Jason Kessler reacts as he is confronted by police outside of the courtroom before the trial of DeAndre Harris at the Charlottesville District Court on March 16, 2018. Harris faced an assault charge from an incident that occurred during the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, but was found not guilty.

Jason Kessler on Thursday promised to actively discourage organized, armed groups from returning to Charlottesville, raising the stakes for anyone who does participate in an anniversary Unite the Right rally in the city.

Kessler and Redneck Revolt, an anti-fascist group, signed consent decrees this week, resolving a lawsuit brought by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. The lawsuit sought to prevent nearly two dozen white nationalist groups, militia groups and their leaders from paramilitary activity at protests and demonstrations in Charlottesville.

Kessler and Redneck Revolt were the only two defendants remaining. Under the 19 consent decrees and four additional default judgments expected to be entered by the court, the other defendants already have agreed not to engage in paramilitary-like activity in the city.

“Should Kessler hold an anniversary rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, as he has vowed to do, these court orders ensure that he and other participants will not repeat the organized and intimidating displays of paramilitary power that led to chaos, fear and violent confrontations in the city streets last year,” Mary McCord, senior litigator at the Georgetown Center, said in a news release.

According to the consent decrees, the individuals and organizations cannot return to Charlottesville “as part of a unit of two or more persons acting in concert while armed with a firearm, weapon, shield or any item whose purpose is to inflict bodily harm, at any demonstration, rally, protest or march.”

Redneck Revolt, which has said it attempted to maintain peace on Aug. 12, posted a statement on its website Thursday, saying it had decided to end litigation and “focus our energies on the many important fights ahead.”

Jeff Fogel, a local lawyer who represented Redneck Revolt in the case, said the group decided to sign the decree after Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore decided not to exclude them from the suit.

Redneck Revolt and the other far-left group included in the suit, the Socialist Rifle Association, were the only armed people protecting the community on Aug. 12, Fogel said, and he was disappointed they were named as defendants.

“As a citizen here, the thing that disturbed me the most was the plaintiffs saying Redneck Revolt was stirring up fear, when police were just standing around,” Fogel said. “A team of 14 lawyers expending busloads of money descended on Charlottesville, in part, to go after the only armed people who were present on Aug. 12 for the purpose of protecting the community. And to add insult to injury, this is the city that failed to protect anyone and has moral responsibility for murder, aggravated physical injuries and mayhem in the streets.”

Redneck Revolt said it will donate the money it would have spent on a trial to the Charlottesville Community Resilience Fund.

Scott Goodman, a local defense attorney not involved in the case, said the consent decrees will make all groups more accountable if paramilitary groups do attend Charlottesville events. He said the agreements were likely just practical attempts not to repeat the previous year’s deadly and chaotic rally.

“What both sides realized, and probably Kessler, too, is that there wouldn’t be much of a showing either way,” Goodman said. “This community, more than any other place, is on guard for it and has the lowest possible tolerance for disorder of anywhere.”

Defendants still can attend rallies and protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere. Virginia is an open-carry state, and the ruling does not stop defendants from carrying arms or from self-defense, but they cannot coordinate armed activity during demonstrations.

Kessler is separately suing the city of Charlottesville, which has denied his permit for an anniversary rally on Aug. 12.

Moore cited the militia ruling in his decision to deny an injunction to allow the anniversary rally. Moore said there was enough evidence that Kessler knew militia-style tactics would be used in civil disorder during the original rally, and that past events and expected future events could present a public danger. Kessler is appealing the permit denial in federal court, but the case will not be heard until next spring.

Kessler also has applied for a permit to hold a separate rally in Washington, D.C. The permit’s application has been approved for review, but the permit itself is still pending.

Kessler did not respond to a request for comment.

Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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