A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of inciting violence against protesters at a presidential campaign rally last year can move forward, denying a free speech argument against the suit.
U. S. District Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky also wrote in an opinion and order released Friday that because violence had broken out at a prior Trump rally and that known hate group members were in the Louisville crowd, Trump’s ordering the removal of an African-American woman was “particularly reckless.”
Citing case law from tumultuous 1960s race riots and other student protests, Hale rejected motions to dismiss the pending complaint against Trump and three supporters in the crowd that was filed by three protesters after a March 1, 2016, campaign rally in Louisville. Only a portion of the defendants’ motion was granted, but the decision means that the bulk of the claims will proceed.
The protesters, Henry Brousseau, Kashiya Nwanguma and Molly Shah, are seeking unspecified monetary damages. They claim they were assaulted by audience members who were riled up by Trump. Besides Trump, the lawsuit names three defendants in attendance — Matthew Heimbach, a leader with the white supremacist group Traditional Youth Network from Paoli, Ind.; Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association from Ohio; and an unknown individual.
The men were caught on video pushing and shoving Nwanguma to usher her out of the Kentucky International Convention Center after Trump’s urging from the stage.
Trump’s lawyer, R. Kent Westberry of Louisville, had argued that the suit’s allegations threaten fundamental constitutional protections by chilling political speech and that those accused of assaulting the three were not acting for or at the direction of Trump or the campaign. Instead, they were acting on their own initiative and for their own purposes, Westberry wrote.
Hale pointed out that, as the protesters had alleged, the violence began as soon as Trump gave a command and an order to get the protesters out of the rally.
The judge dismissed one of the plaintiffs’ claims that Trump was vicariously liable for Heimbach and Bamberger’s actions. The men weren’t employed by Trump or his campaign and therefore weren’t under his control during the rally, Hale wrote.