The speeding Dodge Challenger barely missed Marissa Blair — only because her then-fiancé Marcus Martin pushed her out of the way. But it struck Martin, shattering his leg and sending him flying into the air.
The couple were among the dozens of counterprotesters who had turned out in downtown Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, to demonstrate against the hundreds of violent white nationalists who had descended on the Virginia city as part of the weekend-long “Unite the Right” rally. More than four years later, Blair recounted in a federal courtroom in Charlottesville the horrors of that day, saying it was a scene of “complete terror” that left her and Martin with physical and emotional wounds and one of their friends dead on the pavement.
Blair took the witness stand Monday, as the civil trial of a federal lawsuit against 24 white supremacists who organized the “Unite the Right” rally entered its third week. The suit, brought on behalf of Blair and eight other plaintiffs by the civil rights nonprofit Integrity First for America, is using the 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan Act to try to hold the rally organizers accountable for what they claim was racially motivated violence.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages from the neo-Nazi and white supremacists defendants, which include 14 individuals and 10 organizations. Among them are some of the most notorious far-right figures in the country, such the suit-and-tie white nationalist Richard Spencer, the “crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell, and , a Charlottesville local and the main organizer of “Unite the Right.”
Blair, the latest of the plaintiffs to testify, broke into tears more than once as she recalled the events she witnessed and endured more than four years ago.
“I was confused. I was scared. I was worried about all the people that were there,” Blair told the court. “It was a complete terror scene. It was blood everywhere. I was terrified.”
Sitting across from her were some of the very neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who had organized the event.
Her voice cracked as she recalled for the jury how she saw Martin’s hat on the ground covered in blood in the immediate aftermath of the car attack.
Neo-Nazi and Adolf Hitler admirer James Fields was the man behind the wheel of the Dodge Challenger and one of the few white supremacists who have faced criminal charges related to the rally. He is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old activist he hit and killed, and the wounds he inflicted on dozens of others that day. Heyer was a close friend, Blair told the court.
“Nobody expects your friend to be killed for standing up for what you believe in, right in front of you,” she said.
Blair said she received only minor physical injuries during the attack because Martin had managed to push her out of the way. But invisible injuries have persisted and had a major impact on her life.
Blair said she and Martin went ahead with their wedding in 2018. But she said the physical and emotional pain weighed too heavily on them and they ultimately “grew apart.” The pair eventually divorced.
“My emotional scars were way worse than my physical ones,” Blair testified.
The trial began on Oct. 25 and is expected to last until around Nov. 19. Watching closely are not only the people of Charlottesville who are seeking closure and hoping a verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor will provide some accountability, but many supporters of the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who could be bankrupted if they are found guilty.
Several of them made virtual appearances Monday on the public access line provided by the court to listen to the trial proceedings. One shouted “Make America great again” and promoted a white supremacist podcast on which Cantwell has regularly appeared. Another chimed in with “Read Siege,” a reference to the manifesto written by neo-Nazi James Mason that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as being “filled with his terroristic, dystopian ruminations” and popular with far-right terror groups like the Atomwaffen Division.
A third man wanted to make sure what he was about to say would be heard by the hundreds of people on the line. “Testing, testing, testing,” he said. Then he uttered the n-word three times and hung up the phone.