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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Torch carriers in 2017 Charlottesville rally are indicted

At least three people who carried tiki torches during a white nationalist rally at the University of Virginia campus in 2017 have been indicted.

By Eduardo Medina

At least three people who carried flaming tiki torches at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 have been indicted on state charges that they intimidated others during an explosive demonstration that shocked the nation.

In a news release earlier this week, James Hingeley, the Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney, said multiple people had been indicted in connection with the rally on the night of Aug. 11, 2017, on the University of Virginia campus. The indictments “were issued as part of a criminal investigation that is active and ongoing,” he said.

While it is unclear how many people will eventually face charges, indictments were unsealed this week charging William Zachary Smith, of Nocona, Texas; Tyler Bradley Dykes, of Bluffton, South Carolina; and Dallas Medina, of Ravenna, Ohio, with one count each of burning an object with the intent to intimidate. The felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

A lawyer for Smith did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday, and court records did not list a lawyer for the other two men.

In a brief interview Tuesday night, Hingeley declined to answer questions about the cases, saying that his office was “very sensitive to the fact” that “it’s likely there are going to be trials, and the trials are going to be of high interest.”

The indictments came nearly six years after the 2017 demonstration, which was fueled by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers who marched through campus to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the South’s Civil War general, a symbol of white power.

On Aug. 11, 2017, a Friday night, several hundred torch-bearing men and women marched on the main quadrangle of the University of Virginia’s grounds, shouting, “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The next day, a “Unite the Right” march led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, when she was struck by a car driven by a demonstrator. The white nationalist demonstrations and counter-protests set off a political furor after President Donald Trump equated the two sides.

James Fields Jr., the white supremacist convicted of murder in Heyer’s death, was sentenced in 2019 to life in federal prison.

Workers removed the Robert E. Lee statue in 2021 at the request of the city.

Anne Coughlin, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, said that the “burning objects statute is designed to prevent racist intimidation,” and curtail the kind of racist and antisemitic terror that groups can inflict.

Coughlin added that she had been disappointed in the previous commonwealth attorney for not filing charges against those who carried torches during the 2017 rally. It was an issue that Hingeley, a Democrat who took office in 2020, ran on as he promised to hold white supremacists accountable, Coughlin said.

“I thought they were likely to be successful cases then,” she said. “And I sure haven’t changed my mind in light of all that I’ve learned in the intervening time.”

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