Charlottesville lawsuit aims to prove words can actually hurt you

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A historic civil lawsuit opens Tuesday as part of the federal lawsuit against the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The case seeks to hold two dozen leaders of white supremacist and extremist groups responsible for plotting to commit violence at the rally. The trial has already “crippledSeveral white supremacists and drove others from the movement.

This is the first time that victims of racial extremist violence have sought to hold several leaders of organizations accountable for the harm they have suffered.

A previous criminal trial has already led to life imprisonment for the driver who killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens more when he walked into a crowd of counter-protesters at the rally. But now nine more victims of violence are suing rally organizers – building on post-slavery era Ku Klux Klan Act, which was created to protect former slaves from the violence of KKK vigilantes and allows victims to prosecute in federal court.

This type of lawsuit, led by the nonprofit Integrity First for America, is unusual and historic in several ways. Although civil litigation has long been a strategy used to bankrupt and dismantle white supremacist groups, most notably in cases brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations – this is the first time that victims of racial extremist violence have sought to hold several leaders of organizations accountable for the harm they have suffered.

The case is rooted in the complainants’ claim that the defendants actively planned and coordinated illegal violent activity and conspired to engage in racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville. Over the next few weeks, the jury will hear testimony and analysis from important data leak and more than five terabytes evidence from online chat logs, audio recordings and other online discussions that took place in the weeks leading up to the rally. This evidence details discussions about the use of tactics such as ramming vehicles and how to incite violence in a way that allows a claim of self-defense. Discussions were viciously violent, racist and anti-Semitic, including violent fantasies about driving through crowds and cracked skulls.

Analyzing these discussions also has the potential to innovate by introducing a legal dossier on how white supremacist extremists use masked speech and coded language to plan and describe actions in ways that make them appear more harmless. than they are. There was one well documented explosion in recent years in the use of coded speech and “double talk” sentences across the far right. Such speech – with humor, irony, and satire in memes and jokes – is a strategy to create plausible denial of racist and anti-Semitic statements.

The defendants made similar arguments in this case, claiming that they were “just kidding” and that their views were protected by freedom of expression. But the First Amendment protections are no excuse for violence. And in March, the court dismissed the Charlottesville defendants ‘attempt to exclude expert testimony from two professors, Kathy Blee and Pete Simi, about white supremacists’ use of coded speech. In their report of more than 60 pages, Blee and Simi explained that the defendants had engaged in a “coordinated strategy to obscure their goalsUsing “double talk” and “joke” tactics.

The protections of the First Amendment do not excuse violence.

Courts opinion allowing expert testimony to proceed quotes examples of such tactics, including a neo-Nazi “Style Guide” which instructed followers to use language that makes it difficult for people “to say whether we are joking or not “. One of the defendants in the Charlottesville trial spoke in a 2017 podcast about the effectiveness of using humor to draw people into the movement and to keep “our opponents off balance” as they fight. to distinguish between “the things we are absolutely serious about, and the things we joke about.” While expert testimony in the coming weeks covers the same issues raised in the written report, the trial has the potential to break new ground in documenting how coded speech, jokes, and double talk can incite racist violence, all under the guise of “I’m kidding.”

This is not the first time that coded speech has appeared in court cases. Expert testimony in gang violence showed how code language is used to refer to drugs or planned murders. There are also precedents in cases involving white supremacists. Taylor dumpson, for example, won a monument $ 725,000 judgment against neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin after Anglin was convicted of inciting a racist troll storm of harassment by encouraging his followers to give Dumpson a ‘warm welcome’ and providing links to his social media pages .

The Charlottesville trial offers a chance to show that there are consequences for the organization and planning of violence, including in a way that involves masked speech. Even before the trial began, the trial had an impact. Seven of the defendants, including two groups from the Ku Klux Klan, have already received default judgments. The financial cost of the trial prompted other groups to financial distress or bankruptcy, while others renamed their organizations under new names. And the 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan law invoked in the Charlottesville case is now used in at least two others. pending cases, including a federal prosecution against individuals for their involvement in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

These are critical results. As the trial begins, we can expect many more impacts – including the potential to firmly establish the dangerous ways in which racist and masked coded speech can threaten individuals and incite violence. Hiding hate in a meme, joke, or innuendo doesn’t create the plausible deniability white supremacists were hoping for. On the contrary: when coded speech clearly incites violence, the perpetrators of that violence must be held accountable. The Charlottesville trial provides an opportunity to demonstrate this.


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