Anti-Semitism and its ties to white nationalism and the Unite the Right rally was the focus of Wednesday’s hearing, even as some defendants attempted to downplay the Holocaust.
So far the federal Sines v. Kessler lawsuit has largely focused on the impact of the rallies on the plaintiffs — nine Charlottesville area residents who were adversely impacted by the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally and preceding University of Virginia torch grounds.
Wednesday offered somewhat of a change of pace, as counsel for the plaintiffs called Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar and anti-Semitism expert from Emory University.
Lipstadt, who is not a party to the lawsuit, testified to her expertise, which has seen her write various books on anti-Semitism, its roots and how it manifests in modern society.
“Simply put, I would say [anti-Semitism is] Jew hatred; hatred of someone not because of what they do or who they are, but because they are a Jew,” she said. “You know they’re a Jew and you despise them and you maybe want to do them harm just because they are a Jew.”
Over the course of her testimony, Lipstadt was asked to identify various phrases and symbols used in Discord channels by organizers of the rallies both before and during the events of 2017.
Many of these phrases or words, such as “1488,” are a way of “getting under the radar,” Lipstadt said, and being able to openly espouse anti-Semitic views on online platforms. While Lipstadt said the 88 portion of that response is a reference to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, as a roundabout way of saying “Heil Hitler,” the 14 has a longer explanation and serves as a “call to arms.”
“The so-called 14 words mean ‘We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children,’ and you will often see the number 14 in white nationalist material, white nationalists literature, emails, publications, etc.,” Lipstadt said. “It’s not ‘we must strengthen our movements,’ but this is a battle to secure the existence of our people and a future for the white children. In other words, if we don’t secure our existence our children have no future.”
Lipstadt also testified about the use of torches, which she said can be innocuous, but only in certain contexts.
“When used in a rally with the fire, with the marching, that very much reminds one who has studied this of the propaganda techniques of Joseph Goebbels, who was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates,” she said. “Every time there was a major event — including on January 30, 1933, the night Hitler became chair — Goebbels would organize one of these marches with fire with the torches. For a historian who studies experience, the connection is absolutely clear.”
Few of the defendants chose to cross-examine Lipstadt, with pro-se defendant Chris Cantwell using his time to ask the anti-Semitism expert about her views on Holocaust jokes.
“I find it hard to imagine that using a genocide which killed 6 million people, irrespective of their religion, their identity or their nationality is a topic for jokes,” she said.
Not even an hour before Lipstadt took the stand, defendants finished cross-examining their fellow co-defendant Matthew Heimbach.
Heimbach, a founder of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Woker Party, is one of more than a dozen defendants the plaintiffs are seeking to prove conspired to come to Charlottesville in 2017 with the intention of committing acts of racist violence.
Much of Heimbach’s cross-examination Tuesday came from Cantwell, who asked Heimbach to define his political views and views of Hitler. During this cross, Heimbach admitted that he had previously earnestly said “Adolf Hitler did nothing wrong” and did not believe that Hitler killed six million Jewish people.
Heimbach was followed by testimony from Diane D’Costa, who was a fourth year student at UVa during the torch march. Though not a party to the lawsuit, D’Costa, who is Jewish, described moving into her room on the UVa lawn on the evening of Aug. 11, 2017.
Looking through her peephole, D’Costa said she saw flames and heard “Jews will not replace us,” leading her to flip over a painting she had with Israeli flags on it and remove her hamsa necklace and Shema ring.
“I was scared that if there was any identifier of me being Jewish that I would have a threat to my personal safety and my room would be a threat or a target,” she said.
Because D’Costa is not a plaintiff, much of her emotional testimony was objected to by the defense and the jury was subsequently told not to take it into account.
By the afternoon testimony had wrapped for the day and the plaintiffs presented a trove of digital evidence against defendant Robert “Azzmador” Ray.
Ray, a neo-Nazi podcaster associated with the Daily Stormer, has not participated in the case since it was filed in 2017. Ray remains a fugitive, sought on both a Albemarle County criminal warrant for maliciously releasing a gas during the August 11 torch rally and on a federal bench warrant related to this trial.
The evidence, which stretched from February 2017 up the rallies, depicted Ray as openly racist and anti-Semitic, with several messages calling for violence against minority groups before and during the rallies.
Because Ray is not present for the trial, the jury will be instructed that they can choose to view this behavior and the evidence in an adverse light, though only against him and not the other defendants.
Another defendant absent from the trial, Elliott Kline, was the subject of video deposition footage played at the end of Wednesday’s hearing. The jury has already been presented a video deposition from Kline’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Froelich, in which she talked about his time with defendant group Identity Evropa and the use of humor as a method of disguising racist views.
In the deposition footage, Kline is presented with various comments he made on Discord in which he claims to have committed acts of violence or advocated for others to do so. In each of these instances Kline told his deposer that he was “just joking.”
Kline’s deposition is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.