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Professor Deborah Lipstadt provided a detailed analysis of how the words and symbols used by the defendants expressed beliefs consistent with those of Nazi Germany.

Leaders of white supremacist organizations unapologetically confirmed their racist and antisemitic views during the second week of the Charlottesville trial. In polite, calm responses to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, several defendants expressed their beliefs that Jews and people of color threaten white civilization.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian and Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, provided a detailed analysis of how the words and symbols used by the defendants expressed beliefs consistent with those of Nazi Germany. She explained that the phrase “Jews will not replace us”— used in Unite the Right marches — reflects white genocide/white Christian replacement theory that says Jews control others to destroy white society. 

Professor Steven Winter
Professor Steven Winter

Defendant Matthew Heimbach confirmed that he has stated online: “The total destruction of Jewry is the only way that we can ensure that we will no longer be plagued by the enemy of all time.” A video of defendant Robert Ray, a neo-Nazi, shows him exhorting “Gas the kikes” to a cheering crowd during the Unite the Right rallies during Aug. 11-12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Protests and counter-protests were organized that weekend in response to the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville by local officials. The civil lawsuit charges that the defendants conspired to prevent individuals from exercising their Constitutional rights to protest peacefully and for injuring them during the United the Right weekend. White nationalists from multiple organizations marched in organized groups, some with tiki torches, black clothing and shields — terrorizing unarmed protesters with racist and antisemitic slurs and assaulting them with shields and flag poles.

Fights broke out. But the most shocking incident came at the hands of James Alex Fields Jr., who drove his car into a group of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others.

Fields is serving a life sentence for these crimes. Several men were convicted of beating an African American man that weekend. But there were no legal repercussions for others who injured and terrorized protesters. 

Holding them Accountable

A nonprofit organization, Integrity First for America, was formed to file a civil lawsuit to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable for their actions, which it claims were organized and planned.

The civil suit is based primarily on the Ku Klux Klan Act, a federal law from 1871, which was passed in part to protect African Americans in the South from being denied their vote. The law has been used more recently for offenses that denied individuals their Constitutional rights based on their race.

As a civil suit, if the plaintiffs prevail, the defendants — leaders of an array of white supremacist and right-wing nationalist groups — will be fined and sanctioned by the court. 

Some have already been sanctioned — one receiving a jail sentence — for refusing to provide or destroying evidence. The defendants claim they were exercising their free speech rights and that they did not coordinate and plan the violence that weekend, which they attributed mainly to counter-protesters and Antifa, as well as inaction by the Charlottesville police. Several defendants claimed that they had little or no contact among each other, but cell phone records and texts accepted as evidence showed otherwise.

While a civil lawsuit does not require “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” it does require a “preponderance of evidence,” according to Steven Winter, Walter S. Gibbs Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Wayne State University Law School.  Winter says the plaintiffs’ lawyers must show that the defendants intended to deprive the plaintiffs of their Constitutional rights, participated in a conspiracy for that purpose and injured the plaintiffs.

There is a huge volume of evidence for the case — much of it digital — cell phone call records, texts, internet posts and videos from the weeks before as well as during the weekend of Unite the Right, in addition to some comments from defendants about their satisfaction with the outcome.  

Winter says this evidence will be evaluated in terms of context and substance.  Racist and antisemitic comments, whether made at a rally or online, are not by themselves necessarily crimes; the First Amendment protects free speech. He anticipates that regardless of the jury’s verdict, there will be an appeal — first to the Court of Appeals and then potentially to the Supreme Court.  

The trial is expected to last up to two more weeks. For additional information, visit integrityfirstforamerica.org. 

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt
Prof. Deborah Lipstadt

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt described how white Supremacists and neo-Nazis have developed code words to avoid having their online posts removed by social media filters. Here are several examples: 

• HH or 88 may substitute for Heil Hitler. (H is the 8th letter in the alphabet.)

• Kayak — a boat — may be used instead of kike.

• The “14 words” refers to the white supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.”

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