Experts detail the impact of the Charlottesville lawsuit
On November 23, 2021 the nine plaintiffs in our lawsuit won a historic legal victory against the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and hate groups that organized the Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville.
The jury found every defendant liable on at least one count and awarded multi-million-dollar judgments against all seventeen of them. Default judgments had already been entered against the remaining seven defendants prior to the trial, and the damages against those groups – which include two KKK chapters and an offshoot of the Proud Boys – will soon be determined.
Even before these damages are finalized and collected, our lawsuit has had tremendous financial, legal, and operational impacts on some of the most notorious white supremacist leaders and hate groups in America.
“The suit already has helped to dismantle some of America's most well-known white supremacist groups,” USA Today reported in October 2021. And the defendants have confirmed it:
- Defendant Matthew Parrott tweeted in September 2021 that the lawsuit bankrupted him and destroyed his neo-Nazi Traditonalist Worker Party (TWP). TWP, another defendant that was found liable in this lawsuit, was one of the main organizers of the Unite the Right violence.
- Defendant Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right,” called the lawsuit “financially crippling” and “totally detrimental to what I’m doing.” He added, “I don’t want to go into some public event where I could be blamed if something goes wrong… we can’t do anything publicly.”
- During trial, a member of the defendant group League of the South testified that the Unite the Right violence had boosted recruitment – but the group’s leader, defendant Michael Hill, acknowledged that our lawsuit helped stall their efforts. “I want us to have a new League building in Alabama,” he’d previously said. “...But because of pending lawsuits, we are not going to be moving forward officially with fundraising at this time.”
- A number of other defendants, including the National Socialist Movement, Identity Evropa, the Daily Stormer, and Christopher Cantwell, have complained that the cost of the litigation – combined with being deplatformed from payment processors – has hurt them financially.
Some of the defendants claimed they were leaving the white supremacist movement altogether after the lawsuit was filed, though experts have expressed doubts about their sincerity.
The impact goes far beyond the 24 defendants.
"To an extent," The New York Times reported in November 2021, "the lawsuit, organized by a nonprofit organization called Integrity First for America, has already achieved a goal of deterring extremism."
It “has put the entire hate movement on notice that their reckless violent activities will not occur without consequences,” said extremism expert Heidi Beirich. “It sends up a serious warning flare to white supremacists across the country, that if they act violently, if they harm people, they break the law, they’re going to pay for it.”
USA Today has reported, “The last four years have proven brutal for the ‘alt-right,’ a political movement that mixes racism, white nationalism, antisemitism, and populism. That's thanks in part to the pressure of [Sines v. Kessler], filed in October 2017.” The movement’s leader, Richard Spencer, acknowledged as much after trial: “That’s long dead and gone in my opinion. It’s buried.”
Legal scholar and journalist Dahlia Lithwick is among many commentators who’ve noted that the trial can serve as a model for fighting extremists who threaten our democracy and our communities. “This lawsuit was a template for how to hold violent white racism to account without giving it a platform,” she wrote, “and a guide for how to do so with dignity and decorum and compassion for the hurting and traumatized and the dead.”
And, in fact, our case has already served as a model for a number of lawsuits against the individuals and extremist groups responsible for the violence at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. For example, DC Attorney General Karl Racine cited our victory as an inspiration and source of momentum for the District’s lawsuit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. A federal judge overseeing separate January 6th lawsuits specifically noted our Charlottesville suit before ruling those cases could proceed against former president Trump and other defendants.
Pre-trial Sanctions and Jail Time
Before our team stepped foot in the courtroom, we’d won a large number of legal and financial penalties against the defendants. A number of major evidentiary sanctions played a key role in the trial. Others had major financial impacts long before a verdict had been reached:
- In May 2020, Matthew Heimbach, Elliott Kline, and Vanguard America were ordered to pay $41,300 in sanctions after they repeatedly flouted court orders.
- In January 2020, Kline was also jailed and ordered to pay a separate $5,800 after being held in contempt of court.
- Additionally, in December 2021, the court granted our plaintiffs’ pre-trial motions for the recovery of attorney fees, compelling defendants Robert “Azzmador” Ray, National Socialist Movement, Jeff Schoep, and Elliot Kline to pay $34,615. Separately, the court recommended an additional $18,567.50 in sanctions against Ray.
Default judgments have been entered against seven defendants: Nationalist Front; Andrew Anglin; Moonbase Holdings LLC; East Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights; Augustus Invictus; and Loyal White Knights of the KKK. Damages for these defendants will soon be determined.