SUING THE PURVEYORS OF VIOLENCE: In the January 6 insurrection, as in Charlottesville, legal action can deliver accountability.

AuthorRyan, Melissa
PositionUnited States Capitol protests

IN NOVEMBER 2021, a jury found a cadre of white nationalists liable for planning the violent and deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and for conspiring to deny minorities and others their civil rights.

The defendants in Sines v. Kessler included such notorious far-right figures as Chris Cantwell, Richard Spencer, and Jason Kessler. The nine plaintiffs, all current or former residents of Charlottesville, included "students, clergy, peaceful protesters, and innocent bystanders," according to Integrity First for America, which brought the lawsuit that led to this verdict. The plaintiffs successfully argued that they sustained injuries as a direct result of the actions of the defendants. (The jury could not reach a verdict on two additional federal conspiracy charges.)

The plaintiffs--Chelsea Alvarado, Thomas Baker, Marissa Blair, Marcus Martin, April Muniz, Natalie Romero, Elizabeth Sines, Devin Willis, and the Reverend Seth Wispelwey--were awarded a total of $26 million in damages. Twelve individual defendants and five organizations were ordered to pay up.

The Charlottesville trial lasted a little more than a month, generated national press coverage, and was treated by many of the defendants (two of whom represented themselves) as an opportunity to espouse their hateful ideology in the courtroom. Even without knowing the verdict, it felt like the last hurrah for these guys. Most of them had at this point been removed from major social media platforms, and, in the case of Chris Cantwell, were sitting in prison and unable to broadcast in any form.

In the end, the jury saw through the racist theatrics and held the defendants accountable--not for their words and beliefs but for the physical harm and lasting trauma they caused to the plaintiffs and countless others in the Charlottesville community.

Integrity First for America, based in New York City, describes itself as a "nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to holding those accountable who threaten long-standing principles of our democracy--including our country's commitment to civil rights and equal justice." In its communications regarding the lawsuit, it encouraged supporters to use the hashtag #SueANazi.

In a press release marking the verdict, the group's Executive Director Amy Spitalnick said, "This case has sent a clear message: Violent hate won't go unanswered. There will be accountability." She added that the trial "allowed our plaintiffs to tell the full...

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