The defendants were found responsible for the state conspiracy and other claims, though the jury said it could not reach a verdict on two federal conspiracy claims. Still, it’s a good day when some of the worst people in the country are held accountable and beaten with potentially crippling economic sanctions.
The threat is far from over. But even if the defendants do not bring the millions that the jury judged them to, or the damages are reduced by the court, the trial and its outcome sent a signal that in America, after all, there will be responsibility for the terrible summer days, a message that has been far too sparse since political violence began to increase in the last few years.
The money may never come, and the ideology does not disappear. But this ordeal should achieve at least two important goals. First, it should make others who are planning to make such a cheeky public display of the horrible views think about it.
Second, it clearly and indisputably states that what happened in Charlottesville in 2017, a landmark moment in American history, is a violation of the country’s values, which broadens Americans’ understanding of the violent threat of right-wing extremism, by making it clear what violence in Charlottesville was all about.
The moment seemed to confirm our worst fears. The day after this backbone-cooling march, violent clashes between racists and anti-racists became fatal when one of the defendants drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring several of the people who now became plaintiffs in this trial.
If this is not scary enough, consider what we’ve seen during this very unusual week.
In a strange case, three separate lawsuits, all dealing with the tensions and violence that have erupted in this country in recent years, reached a climax. In addition to Charlottesville, there are convictions of three white men in Georgia for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man they hunted down. And then there was the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who showed up for an anti-racism protest armed with a combat rifle, which he used to kill two protesters in what he said was self-defense, a claim the jury accepted in their acquittal of him on all charges.
The threats of extremist rhetoric and violence have not disappeared, but in an environment like the one we live in, the Charlottesville victory was important. Coming just before Thanksgiving, it provides yet another reason to celebrate, albeit cautiously, in these perilous times.