Experts Describe ‘Surrealistic’ Process Of Putting Charlottesville’s Nazis On Trial

The Charlottesville, Virginia, civil trial of a bunch of white nationalist extremists was not broadcast on tv ― the federal choose assigned to the case forbade anybody from even recording audio of the proceedings. Members of the general public who needed to observe alongside needed to dial in to an sometimes glitchy convention line, day after day, over 4 weeks, for what usually amounted to a weird auditory spectacle.

This was very true when extremism specialists delivered to testify for the plaintiffs have been cross-examined by the identical form of extremists they’ve studied.

“It was a surrealistic experience,” Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, an acclaimed Holocaust scholar and a historical past professor at Emory University, advised HuffPost on Wednesday after showing on the witness stand earlier this month.

Lipstadt has spent years advising members of Congress on issues of anti-Semitism and hate speech. In September, President Joe Biden nominated her to a brand new, ambassador-level place, as particular envoy to observe and fight anti-Semitism. (Her affirmation is presently stalled within the Senate.)

She was additionally approached by the Charlottesville plaintiffs’ workforce to weigh in on the “Unite the Right” rally on the heart of their civil lawsuit. Dr. Peter Simi, a sociology professor at Chapman University who research extremism, likewise gave his skilled tackle the rally and the planning that went into it. Each submitted a report on the rally that was mentioned at trial.

Over two days in August 2017, lots of of individuals descended on Charlottesville ostensibly to protest a proposal to take away a Confederate monument there. The overwhelming majority have been white males. They introduced torches and marched in formation throughout a part of the University of Virginia’s campus till they squared off towards a bunch of counterprotesters gathered round a statue of the varsity’s founder, chanting threats and yelling obscenities. The following day’s occasions devolved right into a ugly scene of violence when a younger white man plowed his automobile into one other group of counterprotesters, killing one lady and injuring dozens of individuals.

The go well with’s 9 plaintiffs scored a significant victory on Tuesday when, after about three weeks of witness testimony and three days of deliberation, a jury discovered the defendants collaborating within the case chargeable for greater than $24 million in punitive damages and about $2 million in compensatory damages ― hefty sums that they’ve vowed to battle.

On the stand, Lipstadt learn aloud a few of the planning messages despatched by the occasion’s organizers. She testified that she was “taken aback” by the extent of anti-Semitism and the adulation for Nazi Germany evident within the discussions.

“On one hand, I could feel like I was in the classroom, teaching about anti-Semitism and teaching about its connection to white supremacy,” Lipstadt advised HuffPost about her expertise as an skilled witness. “This was a call to arms. This was a call to violence. If you read their statements, it’s just overwhelming.”

She was additionally able to confront the defendants.

“I was deeply disappointed that Richard Spencer didn’t cross-examine me,” she mentioned.

Spencer, a white nationalist credited with coining the time period “alt-right,” was considered one of two defendants who represented himself at trial after failing to rent an lawyer. The different was Christopher Cantwell, a racist podcaster presently serving jail time for extortion.

A group of torch-bearing white nationalists rally around a statue of Thomas Jefferson on Aug. 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A gaggle of torch-bearing white nationalists rally round a statue of Thomas Jefferson on Aug. 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

by way of Associated Press

Cantwell did cross-examine Lipstadt, though his questioning got here to an finish after he did not elicit settlement from her in regards to the Holocaust being an excellent topic for jokes.

“I was prepared. I was prepared, really, to go head-to-head with them,” Lipstadt mentioned. “I knew they were going to try to punch holes in everything I said.”

Simi additionally advised HuffPost that he’d anticipated some type of confrontation with Spencer and Cantwell. “But then also the attorneys, in some cases, were not any different,” he mentioned. “I’d say Josh Smith, actually, his cross-examination ― the only word I can describe it as is ‘unhinged.’”

Smith, who represented the white nationalists Matthew Heimbach and Matthew Parrot in addition to the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker Party, skated over quite a lot of matters in his cross-examination, at one level citing varied points of Asian tradition. At one other level, Judge Norman Moon reduce him off, saying merely: “The question makes no sense.”

Simi additionally testified in regards to the deceptive “joking” aspect of white nationalism, explaining that due to the motion’s penchant for doublespeak and layering messages with irony, seemingly tongue-in-cheek statements about violence towards Jews and other people of coloration are by no means actually harmless.

He hoped that the case would at some point assist historians clarify what occurred in August 2017.

“Sometimes we forget that a legal case can really help do that, in terms of providing a historical record,” Simi mentioned. “I think that it’s so important for a healthy, functioning democracy, is you have to have accurate historical records.”

Both specialists hoped that the Charlottesville jury’s verdict would ship a pointy message to extremist teams across the nation, discouraging them from plotting comparable occasions. Amy Spitalnick, government director of Integrity First for America ― the nonprofit that introduced the go well with ― expressed an identical sentiment, telling HuffPost on Wednesday that “violence and hate will have consequences.”

“Certainly this resounding win for our plaintiffs underscores that,” she mentioned.

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who served as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs alongside Karen Dunn, harassed her intention to make sure the plaintiffs are literally paid the damages they’re owed. In an interview with after the decision was handed down, Kaplan cited her expertise engaged on judgment enforcement circumstances, saying: “I knew how to do it then, and we’ll have to do it again here, if necessary.” Several of the plaintiffs are beneath age 40, that means the duty to pay damages could observe them round for years to come back.

Kaplan additionally mentioned in courtroom Tuesday that the plaintiffs’ authorized workforce was contemplating whether or not to retry two claims that deadlocked the jury. Both concerned the U.S. Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a now hardly ever used regulation that after helped take down the KKK. Retrying these claims might result in much more damages awarded the plaintiffs.

While the case could also be considered as a win, nonetheless, the specter of white nationalism shouldn’t be simply defeated. Lipstadt and Simi each emphasised the significance of remaining vigilant towards racial hatred.

“People fail to take it seriously until someone is killed,” Lipstadt mentioned. “People fail to take it seriously until real damage is done. I would love good, mainstream Americans ― irrespective of what their political outlook is ― to open their eyes and say: ‘This is dangerous.’”

Simi additionally worries in regards to the future. He referred to as the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol “in many respects a direct line” from Charlottesville.

“We have elections coming and we have people in Congress like [Republican Rep.] Paul Gosar [of Arizona], who speak the same language of those who organized Unite the Right,” he mentioned. “You know, we’ve got folks like Tucker Carlson expressing ideas related to replacement theory. So, I mean, we are in a very dangerous time.”

“When I think about the possibilities of what could happen, I don’t sleep well at night,” Lipstadt mentioned. “This is not going away.”