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Don Lemon Tonight
Jury Deliberations On Ahmaud Arbery Case Underway; Defense Team Smeared Ahmaud Arbery; Subpoena Issued To Violent Groups; Jury Finds White Nationalists Liable For $26 Million In Damages; Charlottesville Jury Awards Plaintiffs Millions Of Dollars In White Supremacist Rally Case; GOP Lawmaker Who Downplayed 1/6 And Promotes The Big Lie Wants To Be Top Law Enforcement Officer In Texas. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired November 23, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST (on camera): Thanks for watching. I know I speak for the entire team when I say this Thanksgiving, we are thankful for you. Thank you for the opportunity of doing the job, thank you for the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. It helps us get to a better place. And that's what it's all about at the end of the day. Enjoy your family, enjoy everything you can. Be thankful.
Tonight, you get the upgrade. DON LEMON TONIGHT with the upgrade, Laura Coates, right now.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: So nice to see you, hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and you have the elastic waistbands out. I mean, it's probably not an issue for you, Chris Cuomo, but the rest of us will be in our soft clothes.
CUOMO: Only because all of my suits are fitted with the sensa belt. I'm a step ahead, Coates. I'm a step ahead.
COATES: I see. I see. Well, happy Thanksgiving, hope you have a good one.
CUOMO: Have a great Thanksgiving. I appreciate you, I'm thankful for you, your mind, your heart, the way you bring them together to help people understand situations. And, the impact of the law on people's lives.
COATES: Thank you, from the cheap seats, same back at you. I appreciate it.
CUOMO: Yes, I know that guy. There is your boy, making his arguments.
CUOMO: We'll see how it goes with the jury.
COATES: We'll see.
CUOMO: I can't wait to see what you say about it, I'll be watching.
COATES: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it. You take care.
This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. And I'm Laura Coates, in for Don Lemon.
On another night of big headlines on multiple stories. The jury in the trial of three white men accused of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery wrapping now with first day of deliberations, and are due back in court at 8.30 tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, it turns out that there is a price for spreading hate in America. And that price is $26 million. A jury has awarded more than 26 million in damages, after finding the white nationalists who organized and participated in a violent 2017 rally liable on a state conspiracy claim and other claims.
The jury said it could reach a verdict on two federal conspiracy claims, however. That, as for the second day in a row, the committee investigating the riot at the capitol on January 6 has issued a new batch of subpoenas. This time focusing on right-wing extremist groups involved in the attack including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
I want to go right to the trial of three men accused in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
CNN's Martin Savage has that story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the jury deliberating the fate of the three men accused of killing a black man running through a coastal Georgia neighborhood last year.
TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, JUDGE, SUPERIOR COURT EASTERN JUDICIAL CIRCUIT: The law indicates --
SAVIDGE: Judge Timothy Walmsley plays into the controversial case into the one hands of one Black and 11 white jurors.
WALMSLEY: So with that, ladies and gentlemen, I asked that you we retire at the jury room.
SAVIDGE: The prosecutor getting the final say, retelling how an unarmed father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael aided by a neighbor, William Roddie Bryan, pursued 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Eventually cornering and killing him. The final moments caught on video.
LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: You can't force someone to defend themselves against you, so you get to claim self-defense, this isn't the Wild West.
SAVIDGE: Defense lawyer say the men were attempting a citizen's arrest after they say Arbery was seen several times trespassing inside of a home under construction. It turned deadly they say when Arbery attacked Travis McMichael as McMichael was pointing a shot gun at Arbery, Travis saying he shot in self-defense.
The prosecution pushing back saying the men that day never told police that they were attempting a citizen's arrest.
DUNIKOSKI: The defendants never ever said citizen's arrest, they never ever said they are making an arrest. They never said we saw them committed a crime. So ladies and gentlemen, where in the world this citizen's arrest thing come from as it didn't come from the defendants on February 23, 2020.
SAVIDGE: And the state argued that self-defense was not an option since the father and son initiated the chase. Saying unarmed Travis McMichael in a truck never really feared an unarmed Arbery.
DUNIKOSKI: There is no fear here, there's only anger. Do you really believe he had no other choice but to use a shotgun?
SAVIDGE: The state arguing if any one of the defendants had not taken part in any of these crimes, Ahmaud Arbery could still be alive, and that his race was a motivating factor.
DUNIKOSKI: But your emergency, there's a black man running down the street.
SAVIDGE: Both Arbery's family and defense attorney said they had faith in the jury.
LEE MERRITT, WANDA COOPER JONES' ATTORNEY: We are confident that this jury will seriously consider all the evidence, and come back with a verdict that is reflective of what actually happened, which is the brutal and unjustified murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
JASON SHEFFIELD, TRAVIS MCMICHAEL'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We are very confident in the evidence of Travis's innocence, and now we'll see what the jury feels as justice, and we will accept the verdict whatever it is.
SAVIDGE: Defense attorney Kevin Gough who has made controversial comments throughout the trial criticizing the presence of black pastors seemed to soften his tone. Expressing concern for the Arbery family.
KEVIN GOUGH, WILLIAM BRYAN'S ATTORNEY: There is no question on the lawyers, win or lose, we go home. The pressure is on the clients, you know, and I feel for the Arbery family. This has been an ordeal for them. You know, some of this testimony and the evidence presented that their has been graphic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE (on camera): Jury deliberation will begin again at 8.30 in the morning. And of course, it goes without saying that tomorrow is the day before a major holiday. There are many who believe that will have an impact on the jury, after all, they have been working on this case, if you include jury selection, going all the way back to October 18th.
They may want to be done with their duties so they can enjoy the entire holiday weekend. We will have to wait and see. Laura?
COATES: We will. Thank you, Martin.
And joining me now is CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams. Elliot, you know, it's been an ordeal, to say the least, for the family of Ahmaud Arbery. But this trial has really been methodical in the sense of the prosecution's case.
I want to march through these charges with you if we can.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.
COATES: Because I think one of the questions people have, is this distinction between malice murder and felony murder. Both have been charged. Was the distinction people need to understand?
WILLIAMS: Right. So, you don't -- for neither of them do you have to prove that the person intended to kill. Now look, malice murder, the language is that they killed within an abandoned or malignant heart, where maybe he didn't go in with premeditation, but certainly killed the person pursuant to a scuffle or an altercation or something like that.
Felony murder and these jurors might be confused by this a little bit, when in the commission of a felony, a death occurs. And what they did here was charged four separate felonies, and we can walk through what they were. The individual can be convicted of felony murder.
Now those four underlying felonies were aggravated assault with the use of a shotgun, aggravated assault with use of a truck, essentially treating the truck as a weapon. False imprisonment, and attempted false imprisonment. Right? So, it all sort of fits together under this felony murder banner. So, in all its nine charges total.
COATES: Now on that issue of false imprisonment, and of course the classic example of a felony murder is, you know, bank robbery.
COATES: And people, a death occurs in the course of committing that felony, that seems very obvious to people. This one might seem different to people in terms of false imprisonment because people have these ideas in their minds that you've to be in a room, confined, tied down or bound in some way. But false imprisonment is actually more expensive in Georgia. Right?
WILLIAMS: It's literally just confines or detains or arrest, quote, unquote, "a person." So, pinning them into a corner with a truck or impeding their movement if they're trying to get away.
Now look, the fact is this happens on a public street, but in effect, they stop him from moving, which is a form of detention. So, yes, people think of imprisonment as handcuffs in the trunk of a car or something like that. But it doesn't have to be that. The law in Georgia is quite clear on this.
COATES: Now, we heard from at least one of the defendants' attorneys earlier today on Cuomo show, and it was Roddie Bryan's attorney. He was the one who videotape this, I think people might want more clarification in terms of how can it be that all three individuals are charged in these crimes if one has already acknowledged and admitted and actually took the stand, Travis McMichael, that he was the one to actually fire the weapon.
I mean, when you think of each of the different defendants --
COATES: -- who has -- is there an opportunity or a chance that the jurors might hand down different verdicts for each one based on their culpability?
WILLIAMS: Yes, they certainly can, and you use the word culpability. Like look, there is this notion of accomplice liability where you are liable for the offences of another person who commits a crime if you're working in concert.
Now look, the challenge here is that you have one individual who's a trigger man that's Travis McMichael, his dad is driving the pickup truck. But then Roddie Bryan is behind them. Now what the prosecution has charged is that they all work together sort of as this team.
But certainly, jurors could look at Roddie Bryan's conduct a little bit differently than the others, because, again, he was the one with the cell phone camera but not wielding a firearm.
COATES: Interesting, because in the closing you have the prosecution essentially saying, and using the same statements that Roddie Bryan's attorneys have been. But for this video we never knew what happened. But for this video you wouldn't have the prosecution. They turned it on their head --
COATES: -- in terms of their closing argument, the prosecution, to say, well, we have the video not because you are somehow heroic, you weren't just sort of a, you know, person on the side just washing this. You are an active participant, and under the Georgia law you've got this party to the crime that's pretty expansive here.
You know, Elliot, even if this trial concludes with an acquittal or conviction, we are waiting to know. They still have to face another trial, and that's federal hate crime charges. That's been a really major issue for them, right?
WILLIAMS: Right, and exactly because a lot of the issues around race did not come up in this trial. Now there's an allegation that Travis McMichael used the n-word when standing over Ahmaud Arbery's body, they did not bring that up, I think that was a deliberate choice by the prosecution here.
That all will, in all likelihood come up in a federal civil rights trial, there's also all kinds of information that was the Georgia's investigators knew about. Travis McMichael's internet history and social media posting and so on. All this will come into a civil rights trial.
Here they try to keep it focused on just the homicides, just the false imprisonment, just the assault to make this just about the killing, in effect.
COATES: So, what do you think, tomorrow they'll be verdict? I mean, the day before Thanksgiving, we know there's a bit of a fire lit under jurors when the weekends come. Now you're talking about a major holiday.
WILLIAMS: Yes. You know, I get that, and I'm sensitive to that. It'd be really a shame if people rushed, the jurors rushed through their obligation to come to a verdict just because they want to get home to their families. Now look, that's very important and we should be thankful to all jurors for the sacrifice that they make being away for their families to do this.
But this is also, number one, the vindication of rights for a defendant -- for a victim. And number look, look, the defendants' liberties are at stake, and it's kind of a shame if jurors are trying to rush out of there because they want to get back to their turkey or their cranberry sauce or whatever.
So, we shall see. Yes, you're right, jurors as they approach the weekend tend to, you know, tend to get their act together. But who knows?
COATES: Well, I'm not going to take offense, I actually like canned cranberry sauce, but you know, maybe (Inaudible) break kind of man. But it's fine, Elliot Williams, that's fine.
WILLIAMS: No. And let me say this, as you and I discussed, I hate turkey, Laura. And I am not cooking at this year. I'm not doing -- I like, you know --
COATES: Take a stand. That's fine, Elliot.
WILLIAMS: I'm digging in on this one. I do not like turkey, and don't cook for the Thanksgiving.
COATES: If that's what you need to survive, that's fine.
I want to turn now who maybe people who do enjoy the festive occasion, and that's attorneys Charles F. Coleman, Jr., he's a civil rights attorney, and also criminal defense attorney, Mark O'Mara. I'm glad you're both here, gentlemen. Thank you for being here to help
us understand better what is at stake here. And to pick up where Elliot left off. I mean, this idea of race being really the big elephant in the room, and not just a silent one here. It wasn't really brought up the same way it's been talked about in the court of public opinion.
And Mark, I want to start with you because we've heard some really jaw-dropping racist dog whistles throughout this entire trial from the defense. And just moments ago, Chris Cuomo spoke to the defense attorney for Roddie Bryan, Kevin Gough, who still, still sees nothing wrong with his push to keep Black pastors out of the courtroom. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOUGH: I'm here representing Roddie Bryan, and I'm going to defend my clients to the best of my ability and I don't really care whether the people in the chief seats like it or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): All right, your reaction mark, from the chief seats?
MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I am just so astounded and troubled and worried by all of the presentation, particularly from this one attorney, from the Sharpton comment to the Jackson comment. Reverend Jackson, two Black pastors generally. And he was the one also who said that this trial, the daring to put these three men on trial is like 2021 lynching.
A turn that should never be used in a courtroom anymore, unless you are acknowledging what happened 50 years ago. And then he sort of, doubles down on all of that. I don't get it. I find this disturbing; I find one of the closing arguments they speak about, the comment that was made by the female attorney. I would like to say that there are a dog whistles, but they sound more like bold ones directly to those 11 white jurors.
COATES: You know we have that actual comment. And I do want to play that, Mark, just to bring that to the forefront yet again, as much as I hate having heard it the first time. It's important people understand what actually happened, you know, I want to play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA HOGUE, GREGORY MCMICHAEL'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made, does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks, to cover his long, dirty toenails.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): Charles, it makes my stomach churn every time I hear it, but it's obvious they're not trying to play to the court of public opinion. Right? They're trying to play for who they think might be on that jury, and who they think that will resonate with, and if it does, we've got a bigger issue in our society.
But with only one Black juror out of 12, are you worried that sort of appeal to this laten bigotry could actually be successful?
CHARLES F. COLEMAN, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well Laura, it should turn your stomach, and it turns the stomach of everyone who's watched it. But you're absolutely correct. I do think at this point these defense team have decided that they are going to try and appeal to the lowest common factor that may be somewhere in someone on that jury.
We're all attorneys and we know that all you need as a defense attorney is just one to get a hung jury. And at this point, it seems as though they are trying to play to the lowest sensibilities to try to get someone on that jury who will hold out for a hung jury, and not convict their clients.
And it's disgusting to see racism used as a legal strategy, and I hate that that's where we are, but there is no denying, we're all the attorneys here. We know that at the end of the day, you have to understand who your audience is.
So, something about those defense attorneys have made them feel comfortable using that sort of not coated, not thinly veiled, very blatant racist language in front of this jury. And if, you're careful and you pay attention the same very thing that has kept the prosecutor quiet on using the issue of race as well.
COATES: You think, wait, you think the prosecutor is not saying and mentioning race because there is also an attempt to have the dog whistle, or they think that playing the race card is something about their own thoughts on race?
COLEMAN: The only reason that I could think of at this point, and I have been waiting for, Laura, I've been watching the summation, I've watched the rebuttal today. And even today the prosecutor laid out themes of white entitlement which you talk about. They tried to stop Mr. Arbery, he didn't stop, and how dare he not answer their questions.
All of these themes had underpinnings of white entitlement and white privilege. She didn't call it for what it was. And throughout the trial they've only mentioned it once or twice on the prosecutorial side.
The only reason I could think that that might be the case, is because they feel that mentioning race from them is not going to be a plus for their prosecution or for them getting a conviction.
COATES: Mark, you have a reaction to that?
O'MARA: Yes, my point was exactly what I said at the end. Unfortunately, this prosecutor also knows the jury that she has, and this is a Brunswick jury, they did not want to take this case anywhere else in the state (Inaudible) the backyard of Satilla Shores.
And she knows, as well as the defense team to know different reasons, but they know who they are playing too as well. And it's horribly difficult to try and figure out how do you play to a jury who you believe may have some subtle racial biases against the victim in this case in favor of the defendant.
And as a prosecutor, if you actually rise that up you may turn those subtle racist jurors potentials against your prosecution. So, I think it is a very difficult ground for the state to focus on.
I thought she did a good job at focusing on the facts and the law and don't get caught up in this craziness. I love her analogies and the common sense (Inaudible) that she had to it. But yes, I'm sure she had a difficult time prosecuting this case with his jury.
COATES: Well, we will soon see, hopefully with this jury who will render a verdict. But you know, I can think of one potential reason why not to bring up race, and it could be that obviously racial animus is not an element in the crimes that she is trying to prove. And the federal hate crimes that they will be tried for next will be part.
And I do wonder if there was some sort of conversation about what to bring up with the federal prosecutors in the latter case. But we'll wait and see what happens. Gentlemen, thank you. We are all waiting on bated breathe. Thank you. I appreciate it.
O'MARA: We're all are. Thanks.
COLEMAN: Thanks, Laura.
COATES: You know, right wing extremists in the sites of the January 6th committee, with a batch of new subpoenas out today targeting now the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
So, will they tell what they know about the days leading up to the violence?
COATES (on camera): For the second time in two days, the January 6 committee issuing a new round of subpoenas. This time targeting right- wing extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys and the leaders of each group as well. And there is an additional subpoena going to the head of a lesser-known militia group called the 1st Amendment Praetorian.
Let's discuss with CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein, and Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general.
Gentlemen, I'm glad you're both here.
Another day, another round of subpoenas. Let me start with you, Harry, here. Because right wing extremists like the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, they played a big role in the January 6th attack at the capitol. So, what can the subpoenas tell us?
I mean, they trying to find the link between the White House and the violence that we saw that day? Any correlation to that now infamous phrase of stand back and stand by? What do you think?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. Well, so I think you hit the nail on the head, Laura, so it's the second in two days. And yesterday were -- both of them for the first time were people who really were involved in the planning, the organization, the coordination as opposed to actually being there and storming the ramp parts.
And I -- I think it's a fair supposition that the committee thinks that the people who were subpoenaed today had some kind of connection to the shadowy figures of Alex Jones, and Roger Stone. And who are they? They are exactly the people who operate as a bridge between three percenters and terrorists on the one hand and Trump and his circle on the other.
So, I think that shows they are going not only at organization coordination and funding. Funding by the way, being a very big part here. And there is no way the group themselves could have done it. Between those functions and potential involvement by the actual inner circle and even the epicenter Trump himself within the White House.
COATES: From funding, frankly, to, Ron, fundraising. I mean, there is a time when you had congressional subpoenas and it wasn't a feather in one's cap, it was something that you were shaking in your boots about. And now it seems that it's ability, you know, you can fund-raise off of it.
I mean, the subpoenas for Roger Stone yesterday, for Alex Jones, I mean, they are already fundraising off this. They are actually trying to become martyrs in some respect, like Steve Bannon attempted to last week. Will they be successful?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: With their audience, sure. I mean, you know, I think it is -- it is as you say, an extraordinary measure of kind of the tribalism of our politics and I think also a reflection of the refusal as we've talked about before, of almost any Republicans in Congress other than two on the committee, Cheney and Kinzinger, to stand up for the institutional prerogatives and authority of Congress to demand answers not only from the executive branch but from the public.
And you know, essentially allowing this kind of positioning to go forward, where people can defy a subpoena and try to make themselves a hero for doing so. You know, I assume you have me here for the legal, you know, my legal analysis.
COATES: Naturally, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: But I do -- I do wonder. I would assume, and I could asked this as a question back to you, I would assume the committee is on stronger ground in demanding and plans with subpoenas from people who have no plausible, you know, executive privilege claim here.
So, whatever they may do in terms of the outside world and, you know, kind of rallying the base and raising money, they may face more legal liability, more directly legal liability than those in the immediate White House itself.
COATES: Welcome to our law firm. I'm so glad you're here, Ron. So, Harry Litman, let me talk to you.
COATES: The partner with the firm.
COATES: Because he is right. There is a spectrum of people. I mean, you've got to say the idea of who -- the people who are Mark Meadows, former chief of staff, executive privilege claims versus Steve Bannon or somebody who is not part of the administration.
There is a range in terms of the ability to assert the privilege as it relates to your conversations, right?
LITMAN: Absolutely. And there is no surprise Ron is 100 percent right. There is zero, zero hope, zero whiff of an executive privilege claim here. They've one thing they could try, one card to play, that's the fifth amendment. But this would be a layout of a criminal contempt charge because there is no possible, in fact it's not even clear that they had many conversations with Trump as to which they could even assert it.
So, they are really more in this suit. Just tonight, Laura, Bernard Kerik, someone else in a similar position who is at the Willard in this so-called control center, he said grudgingly, OK, I'm going to cooperate and I'll be there. These guys, the fifth amendment is their only play.
COATES: Well, you know on that notion of the fifth amendment, we've heard Roger Stone say that as of yesterday, right, he might assert the fifth amendment, thinking he was somehow he said, you know, convinced or coerced into somehow framed by Congress.
He has said he has no advance knowledge of the event at the capitol. And here is what he said -- here's what they had to say today on Alex Jones' radio show. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, RADIO HOST: Where do we go next, Roger? Because when we talk about the fifth amendment, not that there's anything wrong, but why should we have to pay a bunch of lawyers to dig to everything and then have them say we lie. The only answer is, hey, fifth amendment, I think.
ROGER STONE, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, look I'm not -- I haven't decided what I'm going to do about the subpoena, I won't decide it. It has a return date. I believe December 17th. I'll decide between now and then. But this is an effort in distraction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): This is an effort in distraction, the actual select committee, Ron. It must be said. Doesn't he have a tattoo or something on his back of another president now behind him is now Donald Trump. I just -- OK. Ron, what do you make of that?
BROWNSTEIN: Well look, again, I think, you know, when you look at polling, the share of Republican voters who believe that what happened on January 6th is wrong and dangerous has been dropping. And the share who say that we are paying too much attention to it has been rising.
And I think that is largely because so few elected Republican officials have maintained the outrage that many of them mastered in the first hours when their own lives seemed to be at risk. And they allowed Trump and people like Roger Stone and Alex Jones to portray this whole thing as some kind of democratic vendetta against Republicans, as opposed to upholding, you know, the Constitution and the ability to have a peaceful transfer of power in the U.S.
And so, the risk as this goes forward, is that you can see how kind of the Trump orbit is putting in place the conditions to invalidate, discredit any report no matter how damning the results which does make you wonder if a committee investigation is enough, and whether you ultimately need a criminal investigation, and criminal consequences for no other reason than to make an impression on the public on that end.
COATES: Well, we'll have to see, at least we know there is one criminal indictment related to Roger Stone, contempt of Congress for reasons that we discussed that seems to be the feather in the cap now.
Gentlemen, thank you. Brownstein, Coates, and Litman, that's a firm.
LITMAN: Thanks, Laura.
COATES: I just -- I put it in alphabetical order just to be gracious there. Nice to see you both. I appreciate it.
BROWNSTEIN: Happy holiday.
COATES: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
LITMAN: Same to you. Yes.
COATES: And there's a big verdict now over the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville. Now, the white nationalists who organized it have to cough up more than $26 million in damages.
[22:35:00] COATES: Tonight, a major verdict against the white nationalists who organized and participated in a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia more than four years ago. A jury in the civil trial holding them accountable for the violence and ordering them to pay millions of dollars in damages.
CNN's Brian Todd explains it all.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the jury awarded the plaintiffs in the "Unite the Right" trial more than $26 million in compensatory and punitive damages on several claims. Among them, finding five defendants were liable for racial, religious or ethical harassment or violence under a Virginia State law, and that all the defendants participated in a conspiracy.
ROBERTA KAPLAN, ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFFS: I think this verdict today is a message that this country does not tolerate violence based on racial and religious hatred in any form.
TODD (voice-over): In addition, James Alex Fields, Jr., the driver of the car that plowed into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring dozens, was found liable for more than $12 million for assault or battery and for inflicting emotional distress.
UNKNOWN: There is going to be accountability for the people who did this.
TODD (voice-over): More than half of the damages against Fields, the rest spread amongst various defendants from the white nationalist movement.
JOSHUA SMITH, ATTORNEY WHO REPRESENTED THREE DEFENDANTS: The defendants in the case are destitute. None of them have any money. I don't know how any of the plaintiffs are going to get anything for any of this.
TODD (voice-over): The jury was deadlocked on the first two claims that organizers conspired to commit racial violence or failed to prevent it. The evidence included victim testimony about the injuries they sustained from brawling at the rally and Fields's car that rammed through the crowd and private communications allegedly showing organizers discussing the potential for violence -- quote -- "cracking skulls" and even whether it is legal to drive into protesters.
CROWD: Do not replace us!
TODD (voice-over): But the defendants said they didn't plan the violence, it wasn't their fault, and that what they said before the rally was hyperbole and is protected free speech. The damages awarded by the jury mean a judgment against some of America's notorious white nationalists, including Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, and Christopher Cantwell. The damages will go to the plaintiffs, who include some of those most severely injured in the car ramming and the brawling. JAMES KOLENICH, JASON KESSLER'S ATTORNEY: I think we did a decent job on the defense side cutting the damages down to size even though it is many millions of dollars.
TODD (voice-over): This civil trial, an effort by activists to financially cripple the white nationalist movement.
MICAH SCHWARTZMAN, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW: It sets a precedent, which is that if you conspire to commit violent acts, especially on racial grounds, you should expect that plaintiffs will file suit against you under these federal and state laws in the future.
And so, the trial in that way is a deterrent against future white supremacist conduct of the kind that we saw in Charlottesville in August 2017.
TODD (on camera): Two attorneys for white supremacists told us after the verdict that they are going to try to get the damage assessments against their clients reduced. This and other similar lawsuits have already succeeded in financially crippling some of America's most notorious white nationalists, but it may not be over for them, especially regarding this particular city and its cases.
Regarding those two counts where the jury could not reach a verdict, those federal counts of conspiracy to commit racially-motivated violence, the plaintiffs' attorneys have told us they're going to try to bring those cases again. Laura?
COATES (on camera): Brian Todd, thank you so much for your reporting. It is proof that hate has a high price tag. But the question is, will this verdict deter white supremacists from carrying out future attacks?
COATES (on camera): A jury finding the "Unite the Right" defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages today.
Joining me now to discuss, CNN contributor Garrett Graff. Garrett, I'm glad to see you here today. Nice to have you on the show. I mean, $26 million is a lot of money, even without the federal charges, by the way. I want to play something for you and get your reaction because here is an attorney for several of those defendants today. Listen at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: The defendants in the case are destitute. None of them have any money. I don't know how any of the plaintiffs are going to get anything for any of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): Destitute. I mean, money is a huge motivator, right? So, will this actually be able to have the deterrent effect they wanted to if they are destitute? Will this have the same message? What do you think?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is certainly a message that people who are going to organize or are thinking of organizing similar gatherings in the future will think twice about. This is something where the money is one thing.
The, you know, the distraction for these defendants, these legal proceedings, has kept them from being more active in this mongering movement in the last couple of years. And it is certainly going to limit their ability to participate in it going forwards.
So, you know, this is a verdict that is a win for the good guys.
COATES: Well, I mean, you have talked about this as seeing kind of a straight line, a through line with this case and a lot of the other cases we are seeing right now. Tell me how so.
GRAFF: Yeah. I think that this is -- this verdict, this case, this rally in 2017 in Charlottesville is really inseparable from the other major legal cases that we have been following in these last few weeks.
You know, Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, the January 6 investigation that you were just talking about. I mean, all of these stems from the same pool of hatred and incitement to violence and to take matters into the far-right's own hands.
GRAFF: I mean, there is a reason that law enforcement leaders, intelligence leaders have been unanimous in their calls over the last few years. The number one domestic terror threat facing the United States is white supremacists and white nationalists, far-right extremist groups, and sort of them trying to call forward their members into the streets to cause violence, whether it is against counterprotesters or protesters or, you know, members of Congress.
This is something that the right is embracing openly and troublingly. We have not yet seen the Republican Party step forward to condemn in the way that you would expect.
COATES: And Garrett, I mean, there is also something that amplify these voices, right? What about the role of right-wing media? For example, Fox? We have the Tucker Carlson's so-called documentary on January 6th. We got other outlets like Bannon's podcasts. There are a lot of people listening in that echo chamber that are promoting the big lie. They are talking about these issues and amplifying these voices. What do you make of it?
GRAFF: Yeah, and there have been a number of other cases that we have seen in the last couple of years. You know, the (INAUDIBLE), mail bombing attempts of Democratic politicians, pundits, even CNN's own newsroom in New York amid the midterms in 2018.
You know, he was someone who followed a very normal path of radicalization, one that we are quite familiar with from groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS, but that he was radicalized here at home, primarily through the consumption of right-wing extremist propaganda on Fox News and on social media.
I mean, this is something that is causing real harm and having real consequences in our streets as it incites violence against Democratic politicians, against liberal movements, against elected leaders from school boards all the way up to Congress.
COATES: And, of course, it had deadly consequences. You see what happened in Charlottesville, for example, Garrett Graff, and the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries to so many others. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Scary.
You know, he is one of the biggest promoters of the big lie in Congress, and by the way, he has downplayed the Capitol insurrection. Now, Republican lawmaker Louie Gohmert is running for Texas attorney general.
COATES (on camera): I'm old enough to remember when a prerequisite for being a state's top prosecutor was that you were tough on crime. In fact, being considered soft on crime was a political death sentence.
When someone violated the law in broad daylight no less, you prosecuted that individual to the full extent of the law. Full stop. And you were supposed to do so without regard for race, religion or party. In fact, you tightened lady justice's blindfold.
My, how times have changed, because now it seems that some candidates believe you got to turn a blind eye to the January 6th attack on the citadel of our democracy.
Yesterday, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, a former judge and lawyer, announced his bid to become Texas's attorney general. In a tweet, he vowed to enforce the rule of law. And in a separate video, he pledged to prioritize election integrity. Funny thing is this is the same congressman who downplayed the insurrection and has attacked the DOJ and FBI for doing their job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): There is no evidence, as has been said on January 7th, that this was an armed insurrection. Armed meaning with firearms. There were no firearms.
The injustice coming from what was supposed to be the Justice Department. And what has happened since January 6th is quite sickening. It is a war. It is an assault on our Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): And as for election integrity, he has been a vocal supporter of the big lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOHMERT: There is evidence of fraud in the November 2020 election. And those that say there was no fraud in the election are either doing so knowingly -- knowing that it is false, what they're saying, or just because they bought in to what the mainstream -- lame stream media has reported.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): Now, the attorney general in any state is investigating and prosecuting a wide array of criminal activities, including election fraud. Now, in a country that has seen the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and witnessed the attempts to roll back voting rights to gerrymandering and discounting validly cast ballots if your candidate loses, it would be a gross understatement to say that we should pay close attention to those in the positions of power over our nation's elections.
COATES: The stakes are unbelievably high and legislative attempts to amend voting laws after a very high voter turnout election that flip the majority in Congress and put a new president is office are not a coincidence.
States across the country are drawing and redrawing their congressional maps. Top state officials like attorney generals are being in position to oversee the process of drawing them fairly and what comes after when votes are cast.
We should continue to take exception when anyone tries to use fake fraud as a pretext to question the result. Frankly, anyone who traffics the conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy should never be behind the wheel. When push comes to shove, our elected officials, all of them, shouldn't only try to enforce the rule of law, they should (INAUDIBLE) our fair and free elections.
So, perhaps the question we ought to be asked in candidates these days is not whether they are still tough on crime, but whether they are weak on democracy.
Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.