Op-eds

Three years since Charlottesville, we’re suing the alt-right

  • JTAOpEdCharlottesville
(JTA) Three years ago today [12 August], the country watched in horror as neo-Nazis and white supremacists attacked Charlottesville, Virginia.
by AMY SPITALNICK | Aug 13, 2020

My organisation, Integrity First for America, is supporting a coalition of Charlottesville residents in a federal lawsuit against the individuals and groups that orchestrated the violence. The trial is scheduled for October.

These extremists didn’t come to Charlottesville to peacefully protest the removal of a Confederate statue, as they claimed. Rather, for months in advance, in private social-media chats, they methodically planned a weekend of violence.

First, the violent tiki torch march, meant to evoke the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) and Nazis, with chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Then, the next day, the attack on downtown Charlottesville, culminating in James Fields driving his car into a crowd of peaceful counter protesters and killing one, Heather Heyer.

Charlottesville was part of a cycle in which each attack is used to inspire the next, nearly always online. The white supremacist who killed 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh communicated with Charlottesville leaders on the far-right site, Gab, before his attack; the Christchurch shooter painted on his gun a white power symbol popularised by one of our Charlottesville defendants; the livestreamed Christchurch attack in turn inspired massacres in Poway, El Paso, and elsewhere.

In all cases, the attackers were motivated by antisemitic and racist conspiracies.

Now, even during a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racism, the cycle continues. Far-right extremists have tried to bomb hospitals and turn the coronavirus into a bioweapon against Jews and other minorities.

How do we break this cycle? First, we must understand how these extremist groups operate. We must acknowledge the central role of social media in allowing these white supremacists to find one another, connect, plan, and promote violence.

Second, we need to understand how white supremacists use disinformation and deception to pit communities against one another.

From the antifa bogeyman to the fake accounts, to the age-old canard that George Soros is paying the racial-justice protesters, it’s all part of a larger effort to distract and deflect.

Finally, we must treat the crisis of violent extremism with the urgency it deserves.

Antisemitic and other forms of extremism tend to fall out of the news until the next attack. This is compounded by a federal government that won’t treat far-right extremism with the urgency it requires.

In the absence of federal leadership, it makes brave private plaintiffs like ours especially vital.

  • Amy Spitalnick is the executive director of Integrity First for America.

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