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Tiki torch marchers face charges in Charlottesville

Nearly six years after their march on UVA, some right-wing radicals face charges in Charlottesville.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Nearly six years after their march on UVA, some right-wing radicals face charges in Charlottesville.

In the summer of 2017, hundreds of people marched to the iconic rotunda at UVA on the night before a deadly right-wing rally in downtown Charlottesville. Many carried tiki toches, and UVA law professor Ann Coughlin says that could be illegal under state law.

“We have a statute that prohibits people from burning an object in a public place in a manner that has a tendency to place others in fear of death or bodily injury.”

Soon after the attack, the commonwealth’s attorney – Republican Robert Tracci – decided not to prosecute, but the current prosecutor, Democrat Jim Hingely, convened a grand jury which has indicted multiple individuals for a class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Normally, Coughlin says, a six-year lapse could make prosecution difficult.

“Evidence may degrade, memories may fade,” she explains. In this case, however, there’s plenty of video and photographic evidence.

“And it’s every bit as fresh today as it was then,” Coughlin says.

But did those marchers intend to intimidate – or at this evening rally were they going for a dramatic look to light the way? Coughlin thinks the use of torches was telling.

“It appears to have been modeled after Nazi demonstrations that took place in the 1930’s, as well as white supremacist terror – the use of torches at marches by the Klan. so there’s just lots and lots of evidence that their intention was to frighten people and, in fact, they succeeded.”

Prosecutor Hingely would not say how many individuals will face charges but his investigation continues.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief