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CLP: Prosecuting Acts of Hate: The Federal Response to ‘Unite the Right’

February 8, 2023 @ 6:30 am - 7:30 pm

As the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Virginia, then U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen pioneered a new approach to convicting racist rioters. In this presentation hosted by the Pre-Law Society, Judge Cullen will discuss the rise of white supremacy and domestic terrorism in the U.S. He will describe the August 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, riots and the events of August 12, 2017, when James Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters killing Heather Heyer. Before inviting questions from students, Judge Cullen will explain the federal response to the “Unite the Right” riots, the prosecution of Fields for hate crimes, the convictions of several white supremacists under the Anti-Riots Act, and the importance of prosecuting these acts of hate.

Thomas Cullen is a 2000 cum laude graduate of Furman, where he was a four-year member of the Men’s Varsity Track and Field Team. In 2004, he graduated near the top of his class from William and Mary Law School and was inducted into the Order of the Coif.  After law school, Thomas clerked for two federal judges, the Honorable Robert E. Payne of the Eastern District of Virginia, and the Honorable Roger L. Gregory, now Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Following his judicial clerkships, Thomas began his legal career as a federal prosecutor in Charlotte, North Carolina, before eventually returning to Virginia. He later joined the law firm now known as Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black, where he headed up the firm’s white-collar and government investigations practice group.

In February 2018, based on the joint recommendation of U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, President Donald J. Trump nominated Thomas to be the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.  Thomas was confirmed by the full Senate a month later.  As U.S. attorney, Thomas directed the federal response to the “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, including the successful hate crimes prosecution of James Alex Fields and the convictions of several California-based white supremacists under the federal Anti-Riots Act.  The Washington Post Magazine profiled Thomas’s work as U.S. attorney, including on the Charlottesville cases and his efforts to increase public awareness of domestic extremism. And while U.S. Attorney, Thomas regularly wrote and published op-eds in several news outlets, including the New York Times.

In December 2019, President Trump nominated Thomas to serve as a U.S. District Judge in the Western District of Virginia.  He was confirmed by the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote in September 2020, and, since that time, has served as a trial judge in the judicial district that encompasses Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Danville, Lynchburg and far Southwest Virginia.


February 8, 2023
6:30 am - 7:30 pm
Event Category:


Trone Student Center, Burgiss Theater