RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An organizer of a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia has been released from jail after being held in civil contempt for failing to comply with court orders in a federal lawsuit, but a judge said he could face criminal contempt charges.
Elliott Kline was jailed Monday after U.S. District Judge Norman Moon found he had repeatedly failed to turn over records requested by plaintiffs in the lawsuit against him and other participants in the rally. On Wednesday, Moon ordered Kline to be released, but also said he would consider whether Kline should be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for potential criminal contempt charges “as a result of his contemptuous conduct to date."
Kline served as leader of a white nationalist group called Identity Evropa, which was known for its campaigns to post white supremacist propaganda on college campuses. Kline stepped back from a public role in the white nationalist movement after The New York Times investigated and debunked his claims about his military service.
A lawsuit funded by the nonprofit Integrity First for America was brought by Virginia residents who were injured during two days of violence in August 2017. It accuses the white nationalists of violating civil rights laws and seeks a court order prohibiting further violations as well as financial judgments.
The lawsuit alleges that Kline moderated an online forum to privately communicate with other Charlottesville rally organizers and plan what the suit alleges was a violent conspiracy.
White nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus on Aug. 11, 2017, where they clashed with counterprotesters. The following day, after authorities forced a rally to disband, a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman and injuring many others.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have said Kline has ignored court orders to turn over certain records, including credentials for email and social media accounts he has used.
In his order Wednesday, Moon said plaintiffs' attorneys “have provided documentation and evidence in support” of their claim that Kline has continued to lie to the court under oath, even while he was being held in jail for civil contempt.
“Over and over again, Kline has tried to skirt accountability for the violence he brought to Charlottesville. He now faces increasing penalties for his lies and his flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America.
Kline did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.
The judge said Kline remains in civil contempt, but agreed to release Kline after the plaintiffs' lawyers said in a court filing that they don't believe additional jail time for Kline will move the case forward.
"This court finds that, at this time, other measures besides further incarceration will most effectively secure Klines' compliance" with the court's orders, Moon wrote.
The judge said Kline has paid $600 in fines, but owes an additional $5,200.
A trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for October.