The organization that funded and directed the groundbreaking federal lawsuit against neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizers of the deadly and violent Unite the Right rally in 2017 will close up its shop and concentrate efforts elsewhere.
Integrity First for America is the nonprofit that backed the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit against various organizers, promoters, and participants, including area resident and former University of Virginia student Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, a 2001 UVa grad with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and music.
The organization helped nine current and former Charlottesville residents file and pursue the lawsuit, which is named for lead plaintiff, Elizabeth Sines. Sines was a UVa law student at the time of the rally.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan and her legal firm represented the plaintiffs in court.
“We are so proud of everything we’ve accomplished in partnership with our courageous plaintiffs and broader team, from the historic verdict itself, to the model our case has become post-January 6,” said IFA Executive Director Amy Spitalnick.
“As an organization centered around the lawsuit, this is the right moment to wind down in our current form and move into the next chapter, which will ensure the ongoing impact and legacy of the case and IFA’s work,” she said.
IFA will wind down operations and direct any remaining assets at the end of the year to support the Charlottesville community and survivors of the rally violence.
“We intend for remaining funds to specifically support survivors of Unite the Right who are still struggling,” she said. “As a nonprofit, remaining assets must go to another charitable organization – so we’ll be working to identify the best homes in the Charlottesville community for those funds over the next few months and report back publicly once finalized.”
IFA’s legacy is large. First, a federal district court jury decided on Nov. 23, 2021 in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling the organizations and individuals who promoted the rally were guilty of civil conspiracy under Virginia law.
Although the jury deadlocked on federal race-based conspiracy claims, it still awarded $500,000 in punitive damages against each individual defendant and $1 million against each organization.
The jury also ruled that all defendants named in the charge had engaged in race-based harassment or violence, and awarded $200,000 in punitive damages against each defendant.
The final two claims only applied to James A. Fields, who drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.
The jury awarded $12 million in damages against Fields, who is currently serving life terms for first-degree murder in Heyer’s death and for federal hate crimes related to the attack.
IPA’s legacy also includes the lawsuit’s discovery phase that laid bare the intentions of numerous white supremacist, fascist and neo-Nazi individuals and organizations, describing in detail how they went about organizing the rally.
“As we approach the five-year anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville attack, it’s undeniable that Unite the Right was not an isolated incident but, rather, a preview of the white supremacist extremism that’s followed,” Spitalnick said. “That’s why holding those responsible to account was so crucial and that’s precisely what we did through our groundbreaking lawsuit and historic verdict in November.”
Defendants in the trial besides Fields, Kessler and Spencer included Andrew Anglin; Christopher Cantwell; Nathan Damigo: East Coast Knights of The Ku Klux Klan; Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, a subgroup of The Proud Boys; Matthew Heimbach; Michael Hill; Identity Evropa; Augustus Sol Invictus; Elliott Kline; League of the South; Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Moonbase Holdings, LLC; Nationalist Front; National Socialist Movement; Matthew Parrott; Michael Enoch Peinovich; Robert “Azzmador” Ray; Jeff Schoep; Traditionalist Worker Party; Michael Tubbs; and Vanguard America.
Vanguard America is the organization from which the active fascist white supremacist organization Patriot Front split after the 2017 rally.
The Patriot Front has since marched in Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and commonly spreads propaganda stickers and pamphlets in cities across the country. In June, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front who were huddled in a U-Haul truck near a Gay Pride Week event.
The men, dressed in khakis, navy blue shirts and beige hats with white balaclavas covering their faces, were charged with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot.
Spitalnick said that the lawsuit was not easy, but also that the fundraising and legal effort pale in comparison to the actions of its plaintiffs.
“It’s nothing compared to what our courageous plaintiffs did, first standing up to white supremacists and surviving the unthinkable five years ago and then reliving it in court last year in order to hold these violent extremists accountable,” she said “It’s just been an incredible honor to support them in that effort. They are some of the most remarkable people I know.”
With the Sines case all but closed, Spitalnick said the nonprofit is no longer needed. She said the local legal team is pursuing post-trial motions with judgment collection being the next phase. Case documents, including the exhibit database, will remain publicly accessible at IntegrityFirstForAmerica.org for the long term.
The documents are intended to serve as a resource for researchers, academics, journalists, and others, she said.
Although Integrity First for America is winding down its operations, Spitalnick says she’s not. She’s joining Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization in the multiracial progressive movement that makes fighting white supremacy its central issue. She will serve as chief executive officer.
“I’m also serving as a senior advisor on extremism at Human Rights First. Through that partnership, we’ll continue to engage IFA’s remarkable community of supporters in the critical, multifaceted fight against extremism,” she said.
Spitalnick said she is “grateful to our brave plaintiffs, the IFA staff, the legal team” for what was accomplished.
“I’m also clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, at a time of increasingly normalized extremism, hate, and antidemocratic authoritarianism,” she said. “This moment requires bold action. That’s precisely where my focus will be, and where, through these partnerships, our work at IFA will further inspire accountability and justice at a time when both are in short supply.”
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