America’s Nazi trial finally begins

Just how important is this trial?
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Nazis chant "Jews will not replace us," during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. (Courtesy: Vice News)

It’s a trial that’s been four years in the making, and finally this week the organizers of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, the rally infamously known for the chants of “Jews will not replace us” and for the death of a counter protester, are in court.

What’s important to point out is that this is not a criminal trial but a civil one. Nobody will head to jail for organizing the actions on those fateful two days in Virginia but there could be a hefty monetary penalty handed down. A penalty so high it could potentially disrupt how hate groups are funded in the United States.

“There is one thing about this case that should be made crystal-clear at the outset — the violence at Charlottesville was no accident,” the complaint says. “The violence, suffering, and emotional distress that occurred in Charlottesville was a direct, intended, and foreseeable result of Defendants’ unlawful conspiracy.”

And who exactly are these defendants? Nazis. Plain and simple. There were Nazis who marched those two days in August alongside other white supramicists. There is no need for euphemisms. This is America’s Nazi trial.

A man makes a slashing motion across his throat twoard counter-protesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On top of the swastikas on display and the tiki torch chant of “Jews will not replace us,” Nazis carrying semi-automatic weapons surrounded Charlottesville’s synagogue during Friday night prayers. Those in attendance were so fearful they evacuated the Torah scrolls secretly through the back of the building.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other antisemitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols,” the synagougue’s president said.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper sprayed after the “Unite the Right” rally was delcared a unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal n*ggers,” one demonstrator told Vice News during the march.

Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, the civil rights nonprofit group suing the neo-Nazis, told BuzzFeed News that the trial is a chance to not only to hold these groups accountable but to also “prevent them from striking again … by effectively bankrupting and dismantling these groups and their leaders.”

So far it appears to be working. Richard Spencer, “one of the country’s most successful young white nationalist leaders” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is broke from similar lawsuits filed against him for the Charlottesville rally.  So broke he can’t even afford a lawyer these days.

Taking on Nazis like Spencer is a personal calling for Spitalnick. During World War II her Polish grandmother was put on a train to a concentration camp only to be rescued by resistance fighters. As she told The Forward in an interview:

[S]he and her sisters went into hiding in the Polish countryside. They were on the move when the Nazis found them. Spitalnick’s grandmother hid under a porch and listened to the gunshots ring out as the Nazi soldiers executed her sisters and their children. She survived the rest of the war in hiding with a non-Jewish woman.

“The violence in Charlottesville four years ago was no accident. And at a moment of rising extremism, this case makes clear that violent hate won’t go unanswered — that accountability and justice matter,” Spitalnick told CBS News in a statement.

Just how important is this trial?

“Many of us have the fear that both the Jewish community and Americans in general are not sufficiently aware of the threat we’re facing,” Spitalnick told The Forward.

That threat is both the rising threat of and increased mainstreaming of antisemitism.

Editor’s note: “What to think about. What to talk about. What to listen to right now.” I’m starting a new weekly column that focuses on journalism and Judaism. Some weeks the topic will be particularly Jewish, other weeks it’ll take something in the news cycle and break it down through a Jewish angle. The goal is to inform, not pontificate, and use Journalism (yes capital “J”) as a vehicle to navigate the noise that is out there on these topics. Hopefully you’ll be able to use these facts during the heated debates of Shabbos meals to form your own opinions and to challenge others.

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