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Patriot Front members who vandalized Ashe monument struggle in federal court

A screen grab from the Patriot Front video of members defacing a mural of Arthur Ashe in Richmond.
A screen grab from the Patriot Front video of members defacing a mural of Arthur Ashe in Richmond, which comes from the unnamed plaintiff's lawsuit.

In October 2021, a group called Patriot Front came to Richmond and recorded themselves defacing a mural of tennis great and civil rights leader Arthur Ashe.

Some of those involved in the vandalism were in Richmond Federal Court Wednesday.

The lawyer for the handful of Patriot Front defendants struggled to argue his clients were white separatists — not white nationalists — in their defense from civil claims. Baltimore Attorney Glen Allen instead suggested the spray painting and stickering of the Ashe mural in the majority Black neighborhood was a “knuckleheaded” act which is otherwise protected by the First Amendment.

But, Federal District Judge Hannah Lauck appeared unimpressed, instead stressing the broader context of the vandalism based in racial animus. The mural sits in a majority Black neighborhood in Richmond's Northside, and it happened just weeks before the Unite the Right civil trial was set to begin in Charlottesville.

When Allen argued the Patriot Front logo stenciled over Ashe's face was innocuous compared to the Nazi's use of the swastika, Lauck wondered if that meant hate groups could simply change their logo regularly to avoid claims of racial discrimination.

And Lauck seemed to favor arguments made by unnamed plaintiffs who live in the neighborhood where the defacement took place.

Their lawyer, Arthur Ago with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, argued the defendants conspired to intimidate locals, and when the city had to close the park following the defacement, it amounted to limiting access to public spaces, a violation of civil rights laws.

Here’s Ago, who told Radio IQ it was important to use Reconstruction-era claims like the Ku Klux Klan Act in the former capital of the Confederacy:

“Effectively what defendants are trying to do on a certain level is reclaim Richmond and our clients won't have it and, on their behalf, we won't have it.”

The Ku Klux Klan Act was passed in the wake of the Civil War to give private citizens the ability to challenge discriminatory actions taken by other members of the public.

Judge Lauck said she’d rule quickly on the Patriot Front members’ motion to dismiss the case, though her words from the bench suggested the dispute may continue.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.
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