One of the striking things that came in the aftermath of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups marching in Charlottesville, Va., was the lack of accountability for those that participated in the violence that came from that event. This is where Integrity First for America comes in.
The non-profit organization, founded in the wake of the 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, is supporting a lawsuit brought by a coalition of community members against the groups responsible for the violence.
IFA’s Executive Director Amy Spitalnick and lead attorney Robbie Kaplan will be participating in a Zoom conversation moderated by Shir Tikvah’s Rabbi Michael Adam Latz on March 3. The program “Fighting White Supremacy: From Charlottesville to the Capitol,” will explore the path from Charlottesville to the Capitol; how this movement of violent white supremacists and other far-right extremists has grown; and, most importantly, how we bring these individuals and hate groups to account, starting with IFA’ s landmark Charlottesville lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, which takes on the leaders of this violent movement and heads to trial this year.
“There has been so little accountability for those who are responsible for orchestrating and promoting violent hate in this country,” Spitalnick said. “And it was very clear early on that the former Department of Justice led by Jeff Sessions was unlikely to treat both Charlottesville and the broader crisis of extremism with the urgency it warranted. And so there was a gap that IFA sought to fill.”
The event is sponsored by: Kaleo Center for Faith, Justice and Social Transformation, The Table Mpls, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community, First Covenant Church, Muslim American Society of Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Social Action Committee, Mount Zion Temple, Beth El Synagogue, the Macalester Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and TC Jewfolk.
Reverend Jia Starr Brown will be making opening remarks, and Pastor DeWayne Davis will make closing remarks.
“Eric Ward taught us a year ago (when he visited the Twin Cities) that antisemitism animates white nationalists,” Latz said. “And as we saw in Charlottesville, right when they marched past the synagogue with their tiki torches, they were shouting ‘Jews will not replace us.’ It is incumbent upon us as Jews, to examine, to understand, to grapple with the intersections of racism and sexism and antisemitism, and xenophobia and homophobia and Islamophobia. I think that addressing that particular evil requires multiple strategies.”
That is why Latz helped to assemble a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic coalition of organizations to sponsor the event.
“We gathered churches, synagogues, mosques, and we gathered groups across the political spectrum,” Latz said. “We just lived through four years of an administration that that viewed their only way of success in stoking and catalyzing division, and hatred, and disrespect. And it feels really vital. And it feels like holy work, to bring people together for a common cause and common purpose.
“And, and let’s just get real: the white nationalists and white supremacists who showed up in Charlottesville, who showed up to murder people while they were praying in Pittsburgh, who showed up at the mosque in New Zealand, who showed up at the Capitol. I’m not under the illusion that every group who showed up to co-sponsor this event agrees on everything. But I do think that there is a recognition that by coming together, by learning together, by sharing stories of human dignity, by challenging the notion that we can’t do big things together by doing big things together, it helps us dream a new world into being and build that world.”
The case that Kaplan is leading draws on a 150-year-old, reconstructionist era law called the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was passed to protect recently freed slaves from Klan violence in the south and against racist, violent conspiracies intended to undermine their rights.
“It was not a widely known or, in recent memory, widely-used statue, because it seemed like something that meant to address our past,” Spitalnick said. “But what’s notable is that the way in which we’re using it are not particularly innovative uses of the statute, but rather exactly what it was designed to address, which are these sorts of racist violent conspiracies intended to undermine civil rights. And that’s notable because it speaks directly to the alarming rise in white supremacy and far-right extremism in this country. And we shouldn’t have to use a statute that’s 150 years old, in 2021. But the fact that we do is a testament to the crisis that we’re facing at this moment.”
For Latz, the idea of the event is a very personal one. Both his family and his husband’s family left Europe to find a better life elsewhere, away from the antisemitism and violence they faced as Jews.
“This is the nation that welcomed my great grandparents, gave my grandparents a chance to get work, for my parents a chance to move to the suburbs, and Michael and I a chance to raise our children with incredible freedom to be Jews in public,” he said. “And it feels like it’s my responsibility as an American Jew to tell this story to remind us of how America saved our family’s lives, and gave us the chance to live and thrive. This program is about the lawsuit, for sure. And that’s really important. But it’s about something much bigger: It’s about, for me, a deep responsibility to say thank you to this country for enabling my family to thrive, and ensure that we live up to our American promise and let every other family here thrive as mine has had the opportunity to do.”