Charlottesville trial seeks to vindicate civil liberties

An important trial is taking place at the federal courthouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, where 12 plaintiffs are seeking a civil money judgment that may bankrupt the organizers of the hate-drenched Unite The Right rally, that occurred there in August 2017.

The 10 plaintiffs in the case are complaining that individual white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as individuals and through organizations, including the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialists Movement, Traditionalist Worker Party and National Front, combined to terrorize Charlottesville citizens and deprive them of their fundamental civil liberties, in violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Virginia state laws.

Cable television coverage of the 2017 Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville revealed white supremacism and antisemitism in all of their brutality. Torch-bearing neo-Nazis paraded through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” James Alex Fields, Jr., an admitted white supremacist, rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others. Fields pleaded guilty to Heyer’s murder in 2019 and was sentenced to life in federal prison.

Heyer was just 32 at the time of her death. After Heyer’s death, her mother told HuffPost that “Heather was about stopping the hatred.” Heather Heyer was at the demonstration with a group of friends and was innocently crossing the street when Fields slammed into her.

The Charlottesville civil rights case is of signal importance to American Jews.

As explained in the plaintiffs’ pleadings, the defendants, an amalgam of hate-spewing individuals and antisemites, used advanced social media channels to plan and perpetrate lawless violence in Charlottesville. The purpose of the melee was to strike fear into the souls of American Jews, as well as Blacks and members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

The defendants manipulated a controversy over removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in order to inflame legions devoted to bigotry and hatred.

Last week, Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt, the distinguished and revered Holocaust scholar, testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs at the trial. 

Professor Lipstadt is no stranger to the rank evil fomented by the “alt-right” defendants. Presidents of both parties have lauded her scholarship. 

In 2000, in a London court, Lipstadt defeated a libel suit brought against her by British author David Irving, who claimed she had damaged his reputation by describing him as a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book, “Denying The Holocaust.”

Lipstadt told the Charlottesville jury that she was astonished by the extent to which antisemitism imbued the 2017 Unite The Right march.

“There was a great deal of overt antisemitism and adulation of the Third Reich throughout the evidence I looked at,” Lipstadt testified. “Very few things surprise me, but I was taken aback.”

“Two animuses — racism and antisemitism — come together in the concept of ‘white genocide’ or ‘white replacement’ theory,” her report stated. “According to the adherents of this theory, the Jews’ accomplices or lackeys in this effort is an array of people of color, among them Muslims and African Americans,” she wrote.

Millions of Americans were shocked in 2017 when they witnessed teeming masses of Americans waving Nazi symbols and Confederate flags as they marched shouting “Jews will not replace us.”

At the trial in Charlottesville, American civil liberties are being tested in the crucible of an American courtroom. Aggrieved parties are invoking their rights under the American legal system. The plaintiffs are seeking substantial money damages as a partial remedy of the rank hatred that was the foundation of the Unite The Right rally. That same evil, in all of its ugliness, is the foundation of antisemitism and all intolerance

As American Jews, we must fully grasp that the evil of the Charlottesville rally and its other iterations, has no place in the American system of political debate. Antisemitism, prejudice and race-hatred are a human evil. Republicans and Democrats of all viewpoints should unite in championing the inviolability of American freedoms. There is no room in the American marketplace of ideas for the harbingers of hate.

We must unite in our commitments to basic freedoms and human dignity. And, we must be wary.

Recently, in Austin and San Marcos, a series of antisemitic incidents have occurred. 

Over the weekend of Nov. 1, Jewish residents of a San Marcos neighborhood received hate-spewed letters blaming the Jews for the coronavirus.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, Austin’s Fire Department responded to a fire at Congregation Beth Israel. On Oct. 23, about a dozen people hung a banner targeting Jews from an overpass on Austin’s North Mopac Expressway.

On Oct. 22, Austin’s Anderson High School was desecrated with swastikas, homophobic language and anti-Black racial epithets. The Anti-Defamation League has linked a web address listed on the placard to a group that includes neo-Nazis.

So, as the plaintiffs in the Charlottesville trial labor to vindicate American freedoms, we are reminded that antisemitism knows no boundaries. Throughout history, the Jewish People have survived horrific efforts to destroy us. We must combat hatred with goodness, decency, acts of human kindness and the sure notion that as American Jews we are responsible for each other. 

Antisemitism and all forms of prejudice must be called out and confronted whenever it breaks into the open and never be ignored.

It is up to each of us, and to all of us, as a community, to make the pledge of “Never Again” a reality.

Leave a Reply