By Amy Spitalnick
Executive Director, Integrity First for America
The attack on the Capitol one year ago today made many Americans painfully aware of the threat of domestic extremism. But it was simply the manifestation of a crisis -- a crisis that has only gotten worse in the 12 months that have followed.
In many ways, the cycle of extremism has been obvious over the last few years: Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, El Paso, the Capitol. But the crisis extends well beyond the headlines as extremism increasingly seeps into the mainstream -- from Replacement Theory and other conspiracies on primetime TV and espoused by politicians; to attacks on education, election, and public health officials; to record-level hate crimes on our streets.
All of this is reinforced by polling that illustrates the erosion of our democratic norms. A quarter of Americans are inclined toward far-right authoritarian views and roughly one in three believe violence against the government can at times be justified. These trends are no doubt the result of years of readily available disinformation, propaganda, and hate.
It’s understandable to feel hopeless about the future of our democracy. But there are, in fact, reasons for hope.
Just one month ago, a jury in Charlottesville returned a verdict in our Unite the Right lawsuit, finding the defendants liable for multi-million dollar damages. Last night, hundreds of people who helped make that victory possible came together to celebrate this historic verdict and the powerful message it sent: There will be serious consequences for violent extremism. We are grateful to everyone who joined -- and if you missed the program, the recording is available here.
Now, officials and organizations are bringing new lawsuits modeled on our Charlottesville case, aimed at holding accountable those responsible for the Capitol insurrection. Just a few weeks ago, the DC Attorney General filed suit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, citing the “momentum” created by our case.
Our Charlottesville lawsuit has affirmed the importance of civil litigation and helped chart a path forward, demonstrating how to bankrupt and dismantle these extremists -- and prevent them from striking again. As extremism becomes increasingly mainstreamed, it makes this accountability all the more crucial. And at a time when extremists seek to rewrite history, it’s so critical to establish a true record of the facts -- just as our case did in Charlottesville, and the January 6th lawsuits and commission seek to do now.
These cases don't happen on their own -- they take courageous plaintiffs, tireless work, and real resources -- and they’re not a silver bullet. Saving our democracy will require a whole-of-society approach, from combatting disinformation and investing in resilience to prevent radicalization in the first place, to protecting voting rights.
But civil litigation like our Charlottesville case is a crucial tool in the toolbox, at a moment when real solutions are desperately needed.
As we mark one year since the insurrection, we must be clear eyed about the dire threats we face -- and use every possible tool to combat them.