State & Local Law News

Charlottesville: First Amendment Freedom Intersects Laws Prohibiting Private Militias and Protecting Public Safety

by Marilyn J. Harbur

On August 12, 2017, heavily armed private militias and so-called “alt-right” groups converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly in exercise of their First Amendment rights at a “Unite the Right” rally. As evident from televised accounts, engagement with counter-protest groups and law enforcement quickly led to violent clashes, including an assault by motor vehicle on a group of counter-protesters that fatally injured one person and injured 19 others. The alt-right groups’ pledge to return to Charlottesville led to the filing of a lawsuit asking the court to prevent the defendants from returning to Virginia and engaging in what the plaintiffs allege to be unlawful paramilitary activity under Virginia law.

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