CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Traditionalist Workers Party, a neo-Nazi group, continues to argue against venue in a federal lawsuit filed by a survivor of the 2017 Unite the Right car attack.
The suit was filed in May on behalf of Bill Burke in the Southern District of Ohio U.S. Court. Burke was among the dozens of people injured during a vehicular assault by James Alex Fields Jr., who has been convicted of first-degree murder and federal hate crimes.
James Kolenich — counsel for the Traditionalist Workers Party in both this case and in Sines v. Kessler, a suit against Unite the Right rally organizers filed in Charlottesville by victims of the car attack — has argued the organization should be dismissed in part because the Ohio court lacks venue, because the rally occurred in Charlottesville.
“Plaintiff does not allege that all defendants are residents of Ohio,” the group’s September motion to dismiss reads. “Plaintiff’s amended complaint alleges that virtually all of the events or omissions complained of occurred in Virginia.”
Kolenich also argues that Burke’s claims of emotional distress cannot continue because they were filed more than a year after Burke was injured in the car attack.
Burke, who attended the rally to protest against racism, testified at both Fields’ state and federal sentencing hearings and detailed his injuries, including a large gash to his head that required several staples to fix. At the hearings, Burke shared not only the physical toll the rally and attack took on him, but the emotional and mental toll, as well.
Burke’s lawsuit bears similarities to the Sines case, though it also targets the white supremacist Daily Stormer website and its owners/operators.
However, Burke’s response points to the most recent emotional distress claim arising from a March 11, 2019, text message received by him from an alleged co-conspirator. As detailed in Burke’s amended complaint, he received threatening texts seemingly directed at his wife from a phone number the complaint argues is associated with fellow defendant the Honorable Sacred Knights, a division of the Ku Klux Klan.
“The Honorable Sacred Knights member states, among other things, that, ‘…we have eyes everywhere. Let him (Bill) know that we are your doctors lawyer police neighbors … we don’t do Jew social media. But we do see,’” the text message stated, according to the second amended complaint.
The complaint includes screenshots from a phone matching one recently found on KKK recruitment flyers in Bloomington, Ohio.
Burke’s October response to the Traditionalist Workers Party’s motion to dismiss argues that he suffers from severe emotional distress and permanent brain damage that has required extensive treatment with medical providers in Ohio and “... continues to be threatened by the same co-conspirators that instigated, supported, and encouraged violence at the Unite the Right rally.”
In its own response to Burke, the TWP continues to argue that his claims arise from injury at the rally and contends that Ohio is an improper venue because the group is not “incorporated” in Ohio. Additionally, the TWP argues that because the harm occurred in the Western District of Virginia, the case should be dismissed or transferred there.
“The amended complaint states unequivocally that the car attack that injured Plaintiff, and all insulting activity that ‘terrorized’ Plaintiff, occurred in the Western District of Virginia,” TWP’s November response reads. “The amended complaint fails to allege that all defendants are residents of the state in which the district is located.”
Burke has not yet responded to the TWP’s latest supporting motion and no hearing dates have been set.