(Oct. 12, 2017)—Dahlia Lithwick of Slate magazine covered the launch of the Charlottesville case. Read below:
On Wednesday morning, schools across Charlottesville, Virginia, were placed on lockdown following an internet threat of a Las Vegas–style mass shooting. On Wednesday evening, alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who helped mastermind the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally that resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was given unchecked airtime on the city’s NBC affiliate. He used that television spot to explain why his white supremacist followers had staged yet another torch-lit march through the city’s streets on Saturday and to announce that they would be returning again soon. Nobody asked Spencer whether he bore any responsibility for the death and injuries in Charlottesville or for the town’s ongoing daily trauma. In Spencer’s view, the law and Charlottesville exist to be victimized and then victimized again.
But if local journalism is content to fête and fetishize white supremacy, the law is not quite so sanguine. A lawsuit filed Thursday morning seeks to hold Spencer and the organizers of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally accountable for the harms and injuries they caused. The suit, filed by 11 plaintiffs harmed that day, was filed in federal court in the Western District of Virginia. Plaintiffs include clergy leaders, peaceful protesters, and University of Virginia students. One suffered a stroke. Two were struck in a car attack. Among the named defendants are Spencer, rally organizer Jason Kessler, Vice interviewee Christopher Cantwell, Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, and James Alex Fields, the driver of the car that killed Heyer.
The suit was brought by a pair of seasoned litigators: Roberta Kaplan, who successfully represented Edie Windsor in the 2013 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, and Karen Dunn, a former federal prosecutor in Virginia. (Disclosure: Kaplan is a friend.) It was funded by a new nonprofit, Integrity First for America, dedicated to defending democratic norms and ensuring equal rights for every American. “The whole point of this lawsuit is to make it clear that this kind of conduct—inciting and then engaging in violence based on racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism—has no place in our country,” Kaplan told me via email. “We are a nation of laws, dedicated to the principle that all people are created equal. On behalf of our very brave clients, we are using those laws to prevent these defendants and others like them from being able to repeat what happened in Charlottesville ever again.”