By looks alone, it appeared that the racist, anti-Semitic crowd that besieged Charlottesville, Virginia, in early August had come ready for battle.
Marchers came armed, dressed in paramilitary gear, waving provocative flags, and shouting hate. If the public needed any further evidence as to the nature of this march, recently-leaked chats by the left-wing activist group Unicorn Riot reveal that violence was very much on the "Unite the Right" participants' minds.
According to Unicorn Riot, an anonymous source forwarded them approximately 1,000 screenshots of conversations that took place in a private chat room on the platform Discord, which has since suspended the white supremacist channel. Amid talks of chants, flags, signs, and audio clips of logistical meetings, exchanges over weaponry and the use of violence as a demonstration tactic emerged.
Members of the alt-right chat group debated the legality of driving a vehicle into the opposition crowd, the kind of violence ultimately responsible for killing counter-protester Heather Heyers and wounding 19 others. Fortune noted that driver James Alex Fields did not appear to have been a part of these discussions, but that he was applauded by fellow white supremacists in the channel after his actions made news around the world.
According to organizers of "Unite the Right," these leaked chats appear to be authentic and indicative of the kind of conversations held prior to the rally. An attorney for two counter-protesters injured by Fields told Wired that these screenshots could form "the crux of the case" by providing the judge with "a little flavor of how [organizers] totally intended on violence and mayhem.”
These leaked chats could also stand as evidence in tangential cases, which could have legal implications extending far outside the violence in Charlottesville.
“You put together a situation where you have Nazis and guns and torchlight parades saying Sieg heil, and people who are convinced the only way to stop that is direct action, you’ve got a recipe for trouble,” explained Allen Lichtenstein, a former attorney for the ACLU of Nevada, to Wired.
He added that the Second Amendment is something to consider as well, as rallies in states with lax gun laws, like Virginia, could swiftly become lethal in the current political and social climate.
While the First Amendment protects hate speech and peaceful, though controversial, demonstrations by hate groups, it does not protect speech that incites "imminent lawless action." Whether or not these leaked chats were a call to arms will be a decision the courts will have to make, but if they find that the alt-right intended to instigate and escalate violence in Charlottesville, it could mean that future white supremacist rallies would face substantial legal hurdles.
Banner and Thumbnail credit: Reuters photographer Justin Ide