A federal judge in Ohio has ordered Richard Spencer’s white supremacist think tank to pay a survivor of the Unite the Right car attack more than $2.4 million.
William “Bill” Burke of Athens, Ohio, was injured in the Aug. 12, 2017, rally when James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens. Fields has since been convicted of murdering Heyer and is serving several life sentences for both state and federal crimes.
Burke, who attended the rally to protest against racism, testified at both Fields’ state and federal sentencing hearings and shared about the physical, emotional and mental toll the rally and car attack took on him.
In May 2019, Burke filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio seeking compensation from organizers and participants in the deadly rally. In the years since the suit was filed, Burke has received $5,000 from former KKK-leader David Duke and $10,000 from the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group.
The biggest sum was awarded last week by an Ohio judge who ordered the National Policy Institute to pay Burke $2,444,461.15 for the harm he suffered as a result of the rally. The white supremacist think tank, which is led by UTR participant and University of Virginia graduate Spencer, was found to be in default approximately a year ago.
According to Judge Michael Watson’s order, as a result of the car attack, Burke suffered various physical injuries — including head, knee and arm injuries — several of which still require medical treatment and may be permanent.
“Although [Burke’s] arm and knee have reached max medical improvement, [Burke] credibly testified that they, and his headaches, continue to cause him pain and suffering and the pain and suffering is not expected to resolve,” Watson wrote.
The order includes $217,613 for past and future medical expenses, $350,000 in punitive damages, $500,000 for pain and suffering and $1 million for emotional distress.
Watson wrote that in the aftermath of the attack, Burke was unable to work for nearly a year and that emotional injuries led him to separate from his wife. Burke continues to go to therapy to process the events of the rally and likely will have to for the rest of his life, according to the order.
“[Burke] suffered from and continues to suffer from ‘survivor’s guilt,’ a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic or tragic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt,” Watson wrote. “[Burke] agonized over whether he contributed to the death of Heather Heyer and will live the rest of his life with the vivid image of her death.”
In a statement following the order, Burke’s attorney, Michael Fradin, said he and his client were satisfied with the judgment.
“It is important that the judgment is satisfied not only to compensate Bill for his damages but also to disrupt and dismantle an organization that attempts to portray white supremacy as an intellectual endeavor,” Fradin said.
Because of the National Policy Institute’s lack of participation in the lawsuit, it remains unclear whether Burke will ever see any of the money he has been awarded. Additionally, Spencer previously has lamented his difficulties with raising funds for an attorney in a separate rally lawsuit, further muddling the likelihood of a payment to Burke.