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Going bankrupt won’t stop lawsuit against white nationalist, Modesto judge decides

Nathan Damigo, an Oakdale resident filed a Chapter 7 petition in US Bankruptcy Court in Modesto, Calif.
Nathan Damigo, an Oakdale resident filed a Chapter 7 petition in US Bankruptcy Court in Modesto, Calif. Nathan Damigo

An Oakdale white nationalist can’t duck a lawsuit stemming from Charlottesville violence by declaring bankruptcy just before trial, a federal judge in Modesto ruled Thursday.

Nathan Damigo, who helped organize the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, sought bankruptcy protection in early January in an attempt to shield what few assets he has from the civil lawsuit. It was lodged by people allegedly hurt by the rally, which left one counter protestor — Heather Heyer — dead and several others injured.

The same group of alleged victims sued in Modesto on Jan. 30 to force Damigo to accept responsibility for the rally, alongside a couple of dozen white supremacy groups and their leaders. Assets cannot be shielded when someone has caused “willful and malicious injury,” the alleged victims said.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Sargis on Thursday found that both sides of the Virginia lawsuit have put “considerable time and resources into the matter,” which is scheduled for trial July 8 through Aug. 2, and the judge opted not to derail that effort. “Any judgment obtained (in the Virginia lawsuit) shall be submitted to this court for the proper treatment of any claims” in the bankruptcy matter, Sargis ruled.

“As our plaintiffs argued, Nathan Damigo should be held accountable — and remain liable — for the harm he caused in Charlottesville. We’re glad the court agreed,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First America, in a Friday email to The Modesto Bee. Her group is a nonprofit organization formed in the wake of the Charlottesville rally and “dedicated to holding those accountable who threaten longstanding principles of our democracy,” its website says.

Damigo and two others were criminally convicted of failing to disperse at the rally.

Among defendants in the Virginia lawsuit is Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group Damigo founded in March 2016 using his family’s address east of Oakdale. He stepped away from leading the group shortly after the rally, which he had deemed “a huge victory” and reveled in getting “national attention” in a post on his Twitter account.

Nathan Damigo, the leader of an alt-right group attending California State University, Stanislaus, was caught on video Saturday punching a woman in the face at a protest in Berkeley. (Clip from We Are Change)

Years earlier, Damigo was imprisoned for robbing a cab driver from the Middle East in California after returning from a second tour of duty in Iraq with the Marines. He obtained a sociology degree in May from California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, whose city council joined Oakdale’s in passing anti-hate resolutions.

In his bankruptcy, Damigo’s listed assets include a 2006 BMW 325i in need of repair, personal electronics, jewelry, woodworking and construction equipment, and a golden retriever valued in one section at $500 and in another at $250, all with a combined worth of a few thousand dollars.

In addition to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, Damigo is a defendant in another brought in state court in Virginia.

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Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.