According to court documents, Cantwell — whose attorneys quit before the trial after his alleged threats to opposing counsel — received legal help from other convicted violent white supremacists: Matt Hale, who is serving a 40-year sentence for soliciting the murder of a federal judge, and William A. White, who is serving a 42-month sentence for soliciting violence against the foreman of the federal jury that convicted Hale.

During jury selection, the defense submitted a question to the judge asking a potential juror whether they would fear repercussions in coming to a verdict in this case. The plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Dunn objected, stating that the question itself could be “experienced by the juror as threatening or potentially retaliatory.”

In the past several years, there have been massive efforts to silence the kinds of hateful, violent speech that can spurn real-life harm.

Anti-fascist organizers and researchers have been pushing tech companies to deplatform white supremacists for their incendiary, threatening speech that often targets people of color, women, and religious minorities.

Facebook has kicked off defendants Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of the Unite the Right rally, Cantwell, and Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right,” though Kessler and Spencer still appear to be active on Twitter. And OkCupid banned Cantwell

The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, published by Andrew Anglin, also a defendant in this case, has been removed from domain registration systems including Google. As a result, many extremists have migrated to more obscure platforms.

Charlottesville activists have been urging journalists to avoid interviewing the defendants. After spotting a Vice reporter speaking with Spencer outside the courthouse, anti-racist activists issued this statement through a freelance journalist: “if vice sincerely wants interviews with us, maybe they should stop talking to Richard Spencer.”

A section of a street in Charlottesville was named Heather Heyer Way. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

Advocates for the plaintiffs said the lawsuit aims to bankrupt white supremacists and their groups, and there have already been results with default judgments against several defendants who did not cooperate in the case. Spencer called the suit “financially crippling” and at least three defendants already face tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions for flouting court orders, documents show.

Still, the trial seems to have given some defendants a boost.

Kessler, who has not yet been called to the witness stand, has been messaging his followers in a real-time chat during the trial. He includes his reactions to testimony, pictures of people named in court, and the transcript of Cantwell’s opening statement, with calls for donations to support Kessler’s legal defense.

Kessler also cross-promotes this on Twitter, where more people pile into the conversation. And he has appeared on a far-right congressional candidate’s YouTube show and another extremist podcast to talk about the trial.

Melissa Ryan, the author of the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete newsletter that tracks online extremism, called their use of the trial platform “desperation.”

“Part of it is the addiction to the attention; part of it is the need to raise money to keep the grift going,” said Ryan, the CEO of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation. “And part of it is just knowing that our systems, whether you’re talking about American media or whether you’re talking about the courtroom, just weren’t designed for this kind of stress and behavior.”

Jason Kessler, organizer of the Unite the Right rally, before the torch march at the University of Virginia. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
‘The world was listening’

When Michael Hill, another defendant, was questioned by attorneys on Friday about his beliefs and planning ahead of the rally, he proudly repeated a pledge in which he called himself “a white supremacist, a racist, an antisemite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe, and any other sort of ‘phone that benefits my people, so help me God!’”

He was presented in court with a February 2019 tweet from a now-suspended account, in which he wrote about the deadly rally: “I would not go back and change a thing.”

Hours later, Hill called in to a far-right radio show and told listeners he was “very pleased” to share his testimony, knowing the court was “a public forum” where “a lot of people were listening.”

“I didn’t deny anything that I believe in,” Hill said on the radio show and, referring to the plaintiff’s attorney who questioned him in court, added: “I’m very honored … to have gotten to face off with this New York Jew attorney.”

Cantwell has used cross-examinations to re-litigate previous grudges, uncover information on people who oppose him and emphasize his views.

At one point, he asked co-defendant Matthew Heimbach to tell his “favorite Holocaust joke.” He also asked a historian and expert on Holocaust denial whether it was ever okay to tell antisemitic jokes.

From the beginning, Cantwell had known this trial was a chance to promote himself. After delivering his opening statements last month, he predicted on a right-wing radio show that he had the plaintiffs “shook up.” And comparing himself to other attorneys in the courtroom, he claimed: “I look like a star next to them.”

“I considered it a spoken word performance you know, and I take that kind of thing seriously, especially once I found out that people were going to be able to listen,” Cantwell said on the show. “I saw this as a tremendous opportunity both because of the cause at hand and because I knew the world was listening.”

Protest signs outside the federal courthouse in Charlottesville on Tuesday. (Ellie Silverman/The Washington Post)