When Whiny, Incompetent Nazis Lost Big

EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThe civil trial of the white supremacists who planned the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 brought some measure of justice. But the threat of violence still looms large.

Charlottesville, Va.—There is a through line from the violent white supremacist Unite the Right rally that took place here in August 2017 to the January 6 Capitol insurrection that sought to overturn the valid election of Joe Biden in favor of the twice-impeached Donald Trump.

Sitting in a Charlottesville federal courtroom, waiting for the jury to come in with a verdict, I couldn’t miss it.

The civil trial of 14 men and 10 groups accused of conspiring to ignite racist violence at the two-day Charlottesville riots, which killed 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer and injured at least 35 others, doesn’t offer an exact legal template for holding the 650-plus individuals (of an estimated 2,500 believed liable) charged in what was essentially an attempted coup accountable. But we can learn a lot from that recent four-week legal cavalcade of white supremacist preening, complaining, and, ultimately, defeat.

One obvious parallel: Trump helped inspire the Charlottesville goons, just as he (even more directly) inspired the January 6 insurrectionists. I met Charlottesville defendant Richard Spencer, the founder of the genteel racist movement known as the “alt-right,” at a party at the 2016 Republican National Convention that brought together every variety of racist and white nationalist for cocktails and canapés. As Spencer told me then: “What’s most important about Trump is the emotion. He’s awakened a sense of ‘us,’ a sense of nationalism among white people. He’s done more to awaken that nationalism than anyone in my lifetime. I love the man.” (Charged with plotting the Charlottesville violence, Spencer claimed he voted for Biden in 2020, but I don’t believe anything he says.)

It took four years, partly because of Covid, to bring the Charlottesville conspirators to trial. But ultimately a jury found them liable for injuries to counterprotesters and awarded the nine plaintiffs in the case $26 million from this group of white supremacists. I hope it doesn’t take that long to bring the January 6 ringleaders, from Trump through Mark Meadows, Roger Stone, and Steve Bannon to the most minor MAGA insurrectionists, to justice. But whatever the time line, to have any chance of preventing the next spasm of white supremacist violence, it’s critical to identify the threads that connect these apparently separate events. They are many, and they’ll make your skin crawl.


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