Taking Hate to Court

The Lawsuit Taking Aim at the Charlottesville White Supremacists

by Julia Tuck

Staff Constitutional Lawyer

Here in America it is not unusual to see people hailing from different countries from around the world. It can often be thought that America is the “Great Melting Pot,” infused with people who add to the cultural richness that makes America so unique and unlike other nations. Despite this, however, it must also be acknowledged that there do exist racial tensions which not only divide America as a nation but divide us as a people too.

The Charlottesville racially motivated riots of 2017 not only spurned violence by white supremacists but also incited more tensions. A new case regarding the riots will be tried before a jury in the summer of 2020. The specific details of the torch lit protest are not clearly identifiable and attorneys have differing opinions as to why certain events happened and what their arguments are for the court.

It seems almost undeniable, nevertheless, that these riots, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer who was against the white supremacists, induced a great amount of violence. The specific question, however, is whether the First Amendment protects this hate speech and whether the protests premeditated the violence or if it was a result of the words and chants used. The defense lawyer W. Edward ReBrook IV claims that “The First Amendment is about protecting horrible opinions, not protecting reasonable ones.” This seems reasonable except that oftentimes hate speech does lead to violence. Despite this, in order to prove the white supremacists guilty of the death of Heyer and violent outrage, the plaintiffs must show that the acts led by the white supremacists involved violence prior to the protests.

Proving a conspiracy is the crux of the lawsuit, which is rooted in the component of an 1871 federal law commonly called the Ku Klux Klan Act, which criminalized efforts by the Klan to re-enslave African-Americans. This act essentially protected the freedoms of African Americans who remained targets of Klan violence despite having been freed from the shackles of slavery, literally and metaphorically. The case now with Charlottesville is not much different than similar actions taken by neo-Nazis and the white supremacists in the past which essentially orchestrate violence based on racism and wrongfully prejudiced notions regarding minorities.

According to Ms. Sines, the leading plaintiff in this case, “Civil litigation allows us to hold those responsible for violence accountable in a way that other tools do not. If you plan and execute violence — toward Jewish people, people of color, diverse communities like Charlottesville — you will be held responsible for your actions.” The ongoing Sines v. Kessler case serves as the longstanding case protecting against racially motivated incidents involving racism.

Thus far in the Charlottesville case, Judge Norman K. Moon of Federal District Court cited the Griffin case and the Ku Klux Klan Act in rejecting the defendants’ initial attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed on First Amendment grounds. It seems that the case can be hopeful for the plaintiffs in the respect that there is evidence of premeditated violence in this situation and it seems clear that the white supremacists were not simply hoping to spread their hateful opinions but did get physically involved with those disagreeing with them. It is in this vain that hopefully this case can positively conclude bringing justice to the plaintiffs and those who were wrongfully hurt, either physically or emotionally, by the white supremacists.


Image Source: NYTimes.com.

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