"Summer of Hate" challenged in companion civil lawsuits
Two blockbuster lawsuits targeting 21 racist “alt-right” and hate group leaders and 17 of their organizations have been filed over the August violence in Charlottesville, Virginia — the hallmark event of what one neo-Nazi calls the “Summer of Hate.”
The civil suits were filed earlier this month — one in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the other in the state’s Circuit Court.
The legal filings seek compensation and punitive damages, and ask the courts to intervene with legal orders preventing a repeat of the deadly events that occurred in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, and barring use of private militias at such events.
Plaintiffs in the 96-page federal suit are described as “University of Virginia undergraduates, law students and staff, persons of faith, ministers, parents, doctors, and businesspersons — white, brown and black; Christian and Jewish; young and old.” The City of Charlottesville, along with several businesses and neighborhood associations, are plaintiffs in the 81-page state suit.
It’s unclear, at this point, what impact the twin suits will have on the hate groups and their leaders, but in past landmark cases, civil judgments have spelled financial ruin for hate groups.
The lawsuits claim the August rally in Charlottesville was planned for weeks, with its organizers making extensive use of social media — coordinating everything from telling individuals to buy tiki torches to use of an internet-based communications system originally designed for gamers.
The rally, dubbed “Unite the Right,” ostensibly was organized and promoted to show opposition by alt-right and white supremacy activists to the city’s plan to remove a Civil War statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
But the event quickly turned into a riotous melee, with three deaths and numerous injuries the day after the protesters marched through town with fiery torches and racist chants.
The federal suit says “hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists traveled from near and far to descend upon the college town … in order to terrorize its residents, commit acts of violence, and use the town as a backdrop to showcase for the media and the nation a neo-nationalist agenda.”
The neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white supremacists and white nationalists, embracing and espousing racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideologies, “brought with them to Charlottesville the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of fascism.”
“They also brought with them semi-automatic weapons, pistols, mace, rods, armor, shields, and torches,” the federal suit says. “They chanted ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ‘blood and soil’ and ‘this is our town now.’”
The defendants “plotted, coordinated, and executed a common plan to engage in violence and intimidation in the streets of Charlottesville,” the federal suit alleges.
Rally participants were involved in an “anti-civil rights conspiracy” against the plaintiffs, including Heather Heyer, who was struck and killed by a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr., who participated in the rally with Vanguard America, a named defendant in both suits.
The state lawsuit says the statue removal protest “quickly escalated well beyond such constitutionally protected expression” when private militia groups “transformed an idyllic college town into a virtual combat zone.’
While the federal suit focuses on civil rights violations, the state suit targets what it describes as the illegality of using militia forces to “protect” alt-right and white nationalist demonstrations.
Militia groups from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere were invited to Charlottesville by rally co-organizers Jason Kessler and Eli Mosley. The pair “solicited the presence of paramilitary organizations, facilitated attendees’ instruction in military techniques, and issued tactical commands to the other alt-right” rally demonstrators, the state suit says.
The presence of heavily-armed, militia groups in the city created a military-style presence that violated the Virginia law, the suit alleges.
Kessler and Mosley, also known as Elliott Kline, are named in both suits, as are Jeff Schoep, leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement; Matthew Heimbach, of the Traditionalist Workers Party and Michael Tubbs, chief of staff for the League of the South.
Organizations named in both suits are the National Socialist Movement (NSM); Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP); League of the South (LOS), and Vanguard America, a two-year-old white supremacy group claiming 12 U.S. chapters.
Two Ku Klux Klan groups, the Loyal White Knights and the East Coast Knights of the KKK, are named defendants in the federal suit.
The state suit says “several white-nationalist organizations came to Charlottesville to fight, applying techniques developed well in advance” the state suit says.
The bands of “alt-right warriors,” sporting matching uniforms and weaponry under an organized command staff, “used clubs, flagpoles, and shields to batter their ideological opponents,” the suit says.
“These paramilitary organizations and their leaders wielded their weapons on Aug. 12 not as individuals exercising their Second Amendment rights to self defense, but as members of a fighting force,” the state suit says.
Alt-right founder Richard Spencer, billed as one of the rally’s featured speaker, also is named as a defendant in the federal suit, along with Michael Hill, leader of the League of the South; white nationalist and Proud Boy member Augustus Sol Invictus; and Nathan Damigo, founder of the white supremacist organization, Identity Evropa. Damigo “took the lead in organizing” the fiery torch parade, the suit alleges.
Although he wasn’t physically present in Charlottesville, Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer, also is a named defendant in the federal suit. His neo-Nazi website heavily promoted the rally and Anglin, along with his associate Robert “Azzmador” Ray, of Texas, provided live internet feeds during the rally, the federal suit alleges.
Anglin and Ray “deliberately incited” their followers over the Internet to “engage in violent acts,” with postings that included: “WHITE SHARIA NOW!” and “WE HAVE AN ARMY! THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A WAR!” the suit claims.
It was Anglin, the suit points out, who earlier this year, in an anti-Semitic rant, blamed Jews for taking “over our society” and declaring a “Summer of Love.”
“They took everything away from us,” Anglin wrote on his website. “That age is ending now. We are taking back our birthright. This summer, a Black Sun will pass over America. I am declaring the summer of 2017 the ‘Summer of Hate.’”
The torch parade and the following day’s rally and the “unlawful paramilitary activity that undergirded it” were the “product of systematic, centralized preparation,” using websites and social media including Twitter, Facebook, 4chan and 8chan, the state suit says.
Rally organizers Kessler and Mosley, the suit says, “oversaw a highly regimented event-planning process” using an online chat app called Discord. They used the “gamers” chat app to secretly communicate and coordinate “violent and illegal activities’’ during the Unite the Right event.
The suits say Discord was “for closed, top super-secret communications intended for the elite inner circle of the alt-right,” with more than 400 unique users from all parts of the country added to the non-public group.
The organizers also established a #friday_night channel on Discord for organizing the fiery torch rally, even telling participants what to wear. “They advised co-conspirators that the event was intended to be a secret and that they should bring torches,
The defendants did not publicly disclose the time or location for the August 11 torch parade because it was a secret operation, the “result of weeks of planning by co-conspirators.”
“The choice to use lit torches was a deliberate decision to harass and intimidate the people of Charlottesville and counter protesters, especially people of color and Jewish people,” the federal suit says.
Mosley, Spencer, Kessler, Ray, Anglin and Invictus were lead organizers of the fiery torch parade, it adds.
The event organizers “intentionally drew on the history of torch-bearing mobs, and in particular, the Ku Klux Klan’s use of torches in the late 1800s and in the twentieth century, and the Nazi’s use of torches in their rallies in the 1930s,” the suit says.
“In both historical cases, just as with cross-burning, the use of torches was connected with racial violence; torches were chosen by [the defendants] … as part of a deliberate plan to evoke fear of the same kind of violence.”
The suit says one Discord comment used by the organizers said: “Tiki torches are the last stand of implicit whiteness.”
On the night of the torch rally, militia groups from Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia gathered at a private farm near Unionville, Virginia, “where they engaged in joint training exercises,” the suit says.
Commanded by co-defendants Christian Yingling and George Curbelo, the armed militia team, “promising to keep the peace and protect everyone,” illegally assumed “functions ordinarily performed” by state and local police, the suit alleges.
“Many observers initially mistook the camouflage-clad militia for the state-sanctioned National Guard,” the suit says, claiming Charlottesville saw “an invasion of roving paramilitary bands and unaccountable vigilante peacekeepers.”
“As demonstrated at the Unite the Right rally, several alt-right groups have become increasingly militarized and appear to regard collective armament as an indispensable means of showcasing their physical influence,” it adds.
Four of the plaintiffs in the federal suit belong to Congregation Beth Israel, the synagogue in Charlottesville.
In fear over the rally, the suit says, the Temple “made the painful decision” to move and hide its sacred Torah scrolls off site in advance of the [Unite the Right] weekend.
But one of the Torahs, salvaged from a neighborhood of Eastern European Jews massacred during the Holocaust, couldn’t be moved because of its fragile condition.
The suit says one plaintiff reflected “how ironic it was that a Torah that managed to survive the Holocaust was again being threatened by Nazis.”
The detail contained in the two suits seems to leave the clear impression that the tinderbox conditions in Charlottesville could have triggered something even worse.
And the suits point out that some of the participants promise they’ll return, as Spencer did with a small group of torch-bearers earlier this month.
Rally organizer Mosley has described the August event as a “quantum leap in the alt-right movement’s willingness and preparedness to use organized force,” telling his online followers that “C’ville was dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. There will be more chaos ahead and everyone involved should be ready.”
Christopher Cantwell, a codefendant in the federal suit, publicly “marveled that the actual levels of violence in Charlottesville were not significantly higher,” crediting his fellow white supremacists with demonstrating “astounding restraint.”
Co-defendants Heimbach and Spencer, meanwhile, have expressed a willingness “to die for [the] cause” at future rallies, the suits point out.
“I crossed a Rubicon long ago that I’m willing to die,” Spencer said, for “politics can be a war.”