After the ‘Unite the Right’ guilty verdict: How can we effectively combat the fascists?


On Nov. 23, a jury in Charlottesville, Va., returned a verdict against organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally of Aug. 11-12, 2017. In the verdict, they found for the plaintiffs, who had sued for injuries and trauma, awarding them damages of $25 million against the defendants. Specific damages were attached to Richard Spencer, Jason Kessler, Christopher Cantwell, Matthew Heimbach, and James Fields—the convicted murderer of Heather Heyer—as well as the organizations involved in the actions perpetrated against the plaintiffs.

The verdict marks a significant step in stifling the spread of fascism and white supremacy. However, it would be a mistake to overrate the effects of the trial. During the course of the two-week trial, white supremacist groups around the country were cheering the defendants, as they spoke unashamedly of their views, using racist and anti-Semitic language in the courtroom. Even defense attorneys joined in the abusive terminology, in an effort to desensitize the jury to the appalling rants of their clients. In the end, it had little effect on the outcome.

As a witness at the scene to their brutality and hate on that hot summer day in Charlottesville, it was satisfying to me to see them get their just due. These individuals, and the organizations they represented, are likely to be pushed from the media spotlight for now, although possibly resurfacing occasionally via appeals and new right-wing formations.

However, the rise of fascist, white supremacist thinking in America won’t be slowed by this trial, or even the Jan. 6 investigation in Congress. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, 3 Percenters, and other far-right, populist, nativist expressions go on unabated. They are fueled by the disciples of Trump and his political minions in the Republican Party. Trying to fight fascism through the courts is a little like playing “whack-a-mole.” No sooner is one “whacked,” than another pops up. So, what is to be done?

One answer may lie in the events of the first anniversary of Unite the Right. On Aug. 12, 2018 (another scorching summer day), the aforementioned Jason Kessler attempted to put together a Unite the Right II rally in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Somehow, he managed to collect a couple dozen of his buddies for the event. Upon arriving, he was greeted by several thousand counter-demonstrators in Lafayette Square, among whom I was once again present. In fact, there were so many that they filled the adjacent streets as far back as Freedom Plaza, several blocks away. The chants from the demonstrators were deafening, and after reading a brief statement (which no one could hear), Kessler and Company scrambled into a waiting bus. There, they were escorted out of Washington by police.

That day it became clear that only an organized mass movement could make no space for fascism to thrive. The problem will not be solved in courtrooms, legislatures, or by the media, but by the many. A broad movement that includes labor unions, religious communities, students, civil rights organizations, and grassroots activists will have the power to overwhelm the forces of fascism and the blight of white supremacy in the streets of America. As the poet Shelley wrote long ago, “Ye are many—they are few.”

Photo: Fascists prepare to enter Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 17, 2017. (Anthony Crider / File:Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ Rally (35780274914) crop.jpg / Wikimedia Commons)

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