Meet the legal group fighting to dismantle right-wing political violence

Now for some good news on the January 6 insurgency. It’s provisional at best, and it can’t make up for the death of Capitol Hill Police Officer Brian Sicknick or compete with the hours of anti-democratic propaganda on the radio. But the legal ramifications of a previous right-wing riot provide a model that could ultimately help hold insurgency organizers accountable – and possibly even undermine the infrastructure of US political violence.

One year ago, Karen dunn and Robbie kaplan were at home – in Washington and New York, respectively – watching on television the unfolding of the attack on the Capitol. They were dismayed, but they also quickly felt a nauseous familiarity with the new events as the two lawyers were immersed in building a case against the organizers of the 2017 murderous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I still have this image in my head of Shaman QAnon,” Kaplan said. “Seeing it on Capitol Hill and thinking is the same kind of virulent hatred and, arguably, madness that we saw in Charlottesville.”

“It might have been a little less shocking for Robbie and I, as there were very similar themes and tactics on display that day on Capitol Hill to what we had seen in Charlottesville,” Dunn said. “And we understood the meticulous planning that had been done in Charlottesville, and we knew you could draw a straight line from there to January 6 very well.”

Maybe history will repeat itself again, this time in a more productive way. In November 2021, Kaplan and Dunn, who served as senior pro bono advisers for the nonprofit legal organization Integrity First for America (IFA) –won their trial in Charlottesville. A jury recognized the responsibility of the organizers of the rally “Unite la droit” and ordered more than a dozen prominent white supremacist and hate groups to pay $ 26 million in damages. A month later Karl Racine, the Attorney General of Washington, DC, for follow-up the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for their alleged roles on January 6, with Racine citing the same 1871 law that was part of Dunn and Kaplan strategy, the Ku Klux Klan Act. “Our team will pick all the brains they can around every case, every piece of evidence that went into the Charlottesville verdict,” Racine tells me. “We are fans of this work and we have consulted them. “

The IFA was launched shortly after the 2016 presidential election – co-founder of LinkedIn Reid hoffman kicked at least $ 1 million– and should be an unlimited legal counterweight to the new Trump administration. “No, I don’t think anyone saw that would be the direction things would go,” Kaplan said. “But after the Charlottesville event, I was very worried – and I was right – that the then attorney general Jeff Sessions would not be particularly motivated to take legal action.

She recruited Dunn, who had been a key advisor to the senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, then an associate attorney in the White House under the president Barack Obama, before becoming a litigation partner at Paul, Weiss (the firm is now to supply pro bono support for Racine’s trial). Kaplan won the 2013 Supreme Court case overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and last year she was reportedly involved in an effort to discredit a woman who had accused the former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. One of Kaplan’s clients is a writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her and suing him for defamation (both charges Trump denies).

Kaplan and Dunn used text messages and social media posts to help implicate the Charlottesville defendants; Racine will seek to do the same in his case against the insurgents of January 6. “History teaches that civil actions get people where it counts: in the wallets and purses of the accused and those who funded them,” Racine says, explaining that he wants his trial to be held. both preventive and punitive. “You have to attack their criminal freedom and their civilian money and property. I hope they will come to court. Often what cowards do when pursued is they run away.

Amy Spitalnick, The IFA executive director is worried about something beyond immediate legal maneuvers: the persistence of deadly hatred. The IFA, by raising funds last year, managed to inject some humor into a sinister topic by using the hashtag #PunchANazi with its own hashtag #SueANazi. But Spitalnick, a veteran of the New York State Attorney General’s office, is also the little girl Holocaust survivors. Since taking the position of IFA in 2019, she has helped focus the nonprofit on civil rights matters. “I remember watching the ‘Unite the Right’ rally and for the first time feeling like my grandparents’ story was not just a piece of history, but something that had lessons very real for the moment we lived, ”she said. . “And then over the last four years, seeing that happen again in Pittsburgh, Poway and El Paso, and on January 6, where there were Camp Auschwitz shirts as our Capitol was overrun. This does not mean that we live in exactly parallel times. Were not. We have tools like civil suits that we can use to hold these extremists accountable. There is so much more to do, but marginal hope is my mantra for 2022. ”

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About Jessica J. Bass

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