A leading white nationalist told a judge on Thursday that his notoriety has made it difficult for him to raise money for his defense against a “financially crippling” lawsuit that names him as an organizer of a rally in Virginia that erupted into violence in 2017.
Richard Spencer’s attorney has asked for the court’s permission to withdraw from representing him in the civil case. The lawyer, John DiNucci, said Spencer owes him a significant amount of money in legal fees and hasn’t been cooperating adequately.
Spencer told U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe that the lawsuit over the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 has been “extremely expensive” and a “huge burden” for him.
“This case has been financially crippling for a long time,” said Spencer, who popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists.
Lawyers for victims of the Charlottesville rally violence sued several far-right extremist groups and individuals who participated in the event, which was organized in part to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The lawsuit names Spencer as one of the organizers of the Aug. 12, 2017, rally. Spencer was scheduled to speak at the gathering but has denied that he helped organize it.
Spencer said getting banned from mainstream internet platforms has made it difficult for him raise and accept donations from supporters.
“That’s something that I have proven to be able to do in the past, fairly easily to be honest, but it’s something that I cannot do now,” he said. “When I attempt to raise money, there are various groups that make it their life’s mission to get me kicked off the platform.”
Violent street clashes broke out in Charlottesville on Aug 12, 2017, before a man fascinated with Adolf Hitler plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman. On the eve of the rally, Spencer and others marched through the University of Virginia’s campus, shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Spencer has operated an Alexandria, Virginia-based nonprofit called the National Policy Institute, which raised $442,482 in tax-deductible contributions from 2007 through 2012, according to an Associated Press review of IRS tax records. William H. Regnery II, a wealthy publisher, founded the nonprofit in 2005.
The lawsuit, backed by civil rights group Integrity First for America, seeks unspecified damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. It is one of several suits filed on behalf of victims of the violence in Charlottesville.
DiNucci said Spencer owes him a “very substantial amount” of money. He said couldn’t present an adequate defense without more cooperation from Spencer.
“I don’t see a way forward,” he said. “I haven’t heard any indication, today or otherwise, that there is some other means by which money will be provided.”
Spencer said he wants to keep DiNucci as a lawyer and will try to raise the money needed to pay him.
The magistrate judge didn’t immediately rule on DiNucci’s request to withdraw from the case. Hoppe gave Spencer one week to demonstrate that he can raise money.
Spencer said it would be “catastrophic” if he is forced to defend himself without a lawyer. Other defendants in the case have opted to defend themselves.
“I would be out of my league, your honor,” Spencer said. “It’s not a question of intelligence. It’s a question of competency.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Bloch said Spencer has failed to turn over thousands of photos and video files in preparation for the trial scheduled to start on Oct. 26.