A scene from the Unite the Right rally
A scene from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Anthony Crider via Wikipedia)

Integrity First for America (IFA) was established to sue the leaders of these extremist hate groups and their organizations, claiming that they injured peaceful protestors.

This October, a trial will begin in Charlottesville, Va., to seek accountability for the leaders of white supremacists and other extremist organizations responsible for a weekend of frightening rallies and violence in Charlottesville in 2017. The images were startling — organized marches of tiki-torch carrying men with shields and clubs, shouting racist and antisemitic slogans, some of whom assaulted peaceful protestors seeking removal of a Confederate statue. They also marched around Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel.

Media reports said that some participants in the “Unite the Right” rally carried guns as well. Fights broke out between the groups, but the most horrific event was the intentional use of a car to ram into protestors. One individual, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, was killed and dozens of others were injured.

The driver, allegedly an admirer of Hitler, was convicted of state and federal offenses and is serving a life sentence. But there were no legal consequences for others who planned and implemented the hate-filled, violent Aug. 11 weekend. 

Amy Spitalnick
Amy Spitalnick

“No matter how the defendants seek to avoid accountability, we’re committed to bringing these violent extremists to justice” says Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America (IFA), a nonprofit organization. “At a moment of rising white supremacy and extremism, this case sends a clear message: There will be consequences for violent hate.”

IFA was established to sue the leaders of these extremist hate groups and their organizations, claiming that they injured peaceful protestors. Their case is based in part on the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. After delays due primarily to COVID, the trial is scheduled to begin in federal court in Charlottesville on Oct. 25.

The IFA lawsuit, Sines v Kessler, alleges that the defendants planned a conspiracy that led to the violence in Charlottesville, using Discord and other social media sites to recruit and organize participants, and discuss which weapons to bring.  The plaintiffs are a coalition of Charlottesville residents who were injured in the 2017 violence.

According to IFA, the two dozen defendants are leaders of the white supremacist movement, including Richard Spencer, Andrew Anglin, Christopher Cantwell and Jason Kessler. Their organizations include Identity Europa, Vanguard American and the National Socialist Movement. 

Roberta Kaplan
Roberta Kaplan

IFA’s lead attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said in an online case update, that the lawsuit seeks “justice for the plaintiffs through monetary claims against the defendants and deterrence to other groups considering such things.” 

Spitalnick adds, “By winning large financial judgments at trial, we can effectively bankrupt and dismantle the leaders and hate groups at the core of the violent, antisemitic white supremacist movement and make clear the consequences for this violent hate.”

The IFA legal team is encouraged by the court’s sanctions — including financial penalties and jail time — against multiple defendants who have refused to turn over required evidence. According to IFA, defendant Richard Spencer has called the case “financially crippling” and said it has hampered his ability to use online and other communication platforms. The Anti-Defamation League is assisting in the legal effort through a contribution of $100,000 and research through its Center on Extremism.

Carolyn Normandin
Carolyn Normandin

“Our team and plaintiffs have been the target of extensive threats and harassment by the defendants and their supporters,” Spitalnick explains. “Much of it is antisemitic (I’m Jewish and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and a number of our attorneys are also Jewish). That is why security is by far the biggest line item in our budget. Much of the legal work is pro bono; IFA is funding all case expenses, with security being the biggest cost.”

Carolyn Normandin, regional director of the Michigan ADL, says, “Accountability is one step toward progress. This event ignited so much hatred against Jews. 

“We need to continue the message that Americans do not give in to violence and hate. We have to support people who bring people to justice. It’s really important for ADL to be involved.” 

For information, visit intergrityfirstforamerica.org.

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