In August of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, the “Unite the Right” rally took place, bringing together large groups of white supremacists – from neo-nazis to Klansman. A group called Integrity First for America was born to make justice and fight white supremacy at court.
Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First, and famed attorney Roberta Kaplan are here to tell us how they are financially crippling the racist movements in court.
Amy Spitalnick: Executive Director of Integrity First for America
Roberta Kaplan: Lawyer & Co-Founder the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund
Amy Spitalnick (00:00):
Robbie called me up one day, and said, “I have an idea for you. Would you be interested in helping us sue Nazis?”
Roberta Kaplan (00:06):
Every couple decades or so, there’s a trial that happens, that tends to be much more than the parties in the case.
Speaker 3 (00:17):
All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation, and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman (00:27):
Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman, and this is All Inclusive, a podcast focused on inclusion, innovation, and social justice. In August of 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Unite the Right rally took place, bringing together large groups of white supremacists, from neo-Nazis to Klansmen. The rally began as a protest against the proposed removal of a confederate general statue, but escalated to violent riots. A group called Integrity First for America is leading the charge in a groundbreaking lawsuit that seeks to hold accountable the white supremacists who orchestrated that weekend of violence.
Jay Ruderman (01:12):
Integrity First for America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to holding those accountable who threaten longstanding principles in our democracy, including the country’s commitment to civil rights and equal justice. Today with me is Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, and famed attorney Roberta Kaplan, who is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the trial. She’s best known for winning the Supreme Court case that struck down parts of the federal law that outlaws same sex marriage, and for co-founding Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Thank you both for joining me.
Amy Spitalnick (01:53):
Thank you so much for having us.
Roberta Kaplan (01:54):
Yeah, it’s our pleasure.
Jay Ruderman (01:56):
So let me start off by asking you. On Friday, August 11th, 2017, how did you hear about the shocking riots that were taking place in Charlottesville?
Amy Spitalnick (02:09):
I think many of us remember the visceral feeling we had when we saw those images coming out of Charlottesville of neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches, chanting things like, “Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood in soil.” They marched on the University of Virginia, where they violently attacked the small group of peaceful counter protesters. Of course, the violence continued throughout the weekend, culminating in the car attack that killed Heather Heyer, and injured so many of the plaintiffs in our lawsuit.
Amy Spitalnick (02:38):
What’s so, I think, horrifying about this, not just in the moment when we all were watching this four years ago, but looking at the cycle of violence that followed, is how Charlottesville really previewed the cycle of extremism that’s been poisoning this country over the last few years. For me, as a Jewish American, as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I remember how I felt watching the violence in Charlottesville, and sort of like how gutting it felt, for lack of a better term. Watching people pulling from the same age old anti-Semitism and hate, and using it in this new manifestation to violently attack people. Jews, black people, and so many others fueled by this resurgent extremism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism.
Amy Spitalnick (03:31):
The idea that something like that could happen in America in 2017 was, I think, for me and for many, still baffling four years ago. What we know since, watching the cycle of violence. Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso, the Capitol attack, and certainly the horrific rise in anti-Semitic, anti-Asian and other hate crimes happening right now is that unfortunately none of us should be surprised by this anymore. Rather, Charlottesville truly was the harbinger, the preview of the violence and the hate that’s followed.
Jay Ruderman (04:12):
Roberta, I read that I think later on, when Trump made some comments about what happened in Charlottesville, and saying essentially something like, “There were good people on both sides.” Was that the impetus for you to get involved?
Roberta Kaplan (04:30):
So like most things of consequence that happened in the world, a lot of what happened here was coincidence, in the sense that I, like Amy and millions of other Americans, was kind of watching the events of Charlottesville unfold in real time, or at least the events of August 11th and 12th. I, like everyone else, was horrifyingly glued to my TV screen, watching what was happening. It just so happens that I had opened my own law firm as of July 2017, but we didn’t have any office at first. I think our lease started August 7th, 2017. So the first full week that we were in our office was the week after Charlottesville. I kind of naively had this point had decided when I look back on it, had decided two days after Charlottesville, which was August 15th, that I would kind of ordering pizzas for lunch, and then with the grand total of six employees that we had at that point, we would watch the news coverage together, because I wanted my law firm to be very dedicated to doing work in the public interest.
Roberta Kaplan (05:46):
The reason I said naively is because watching the events on TV were so horrifying, and I remember at least one of the paralegals running out of the room in tears. It certainly wasn’t pizza, movie watching stuff. But particularly when I heard Trump say that day, I believe it was August 15th, that there are very fine people on both sides, it immediately occurred to me that something needed to be done, and most importantly, that the Department of Justice, which is the division of the federal government that is entrusted with dealing with issues like this, most specifically the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, likely wasn’t going to do much, because at that point in time, Jeff Sessions was the attorney general. Jeff Sessions, to be blunt, does not have a particularly good record on civil rights. I was very concerned that the federal government wouldn’t do what should be done to investigate and prosecute the conspiracy that occurred.
Roberta Kaplan (06:50):
So kind of out of my own craziness or [foreign language 00:06:55], I decided if they’re not going to do anything, I guess I will. I started immediately to think about what could be done and how a civil lawsuit could be brought against the men responsible for what happened.
Jay Ruderman (07:09):
So I guess both for Robbie and Amy, when did you realize that this was not a spontaneous gathering of white supremacists and anti-Semites, and people filled with hate, but it was actually an organized event that took a lot of planning?
Roberta Kaplan (07:29):
So on that issue, we got a very, very lucky break. I should go back and look at the dates. But as I recall, very quickly after Charlottesville happened, someone, to this day I don’t know who it is, but someone somehow managed to hack into the computer servers at Discord, which previously had been kind of a computer gamer site. But had managed to hack into those servers, and published publicly, on a website known as Unicorn Riot, many, not all. But many of the messages that the organizers of the so called rally published on Discord for many, many months leading up to Charlottesville. Those messages showed quite clearly the very deliberate planning that went into what happened, the fact that they intended for what happened, the violence and injury and ultimately death that happened to happen, and the fact that once it was over, they celebrated it as kind of a mission accomplished. So most of that, or at least our first kind of awareness that this was not some random, unplanned thing, came as a result of those Discord chats.
Jay Ruderman (08:49):
Did that give you sort of the legal basis to say, “Okay, there’s something here. There’s a lawsuit here.”
Roberta Kaplan (08:57):
Exactly. So it’s very unusual. Normally when you file a civil case, you don’t have much by way of documentation till you do file a case, and then if you survive a motion to dismiss, you get what in the American court system called discovery, so you can ask the other side for documents, take depositions, et cetera. It’s very unusual in a case to have what here was effectively pre-trial discovery before we’d even filed a complaint. It was that information on Unicorn Riot that we used, not only to figure out what happened, and to be able to determine in good faith that there was in fact a conspiracy that had been planned for months leading up to Charlottesville. But even more importantly, I think it gave us the ability to identify who was truly responsible. We weren’t interested in just suing anyone who happened to show up in Charlottesville. We wanted to sue the men and the groups who were the leaders, who planned it, who encouraged their followers to attend, and some of whom ultimately engaged in the violence itself.
Amy Spitalnick (10:04):
What I was going to add is specifically it’s worth remembering and understanding what those tracks showed us, which is that not only was there meticulous planning of the logistics around this, so the mundane, the banal, what to wear, what to bring for lunch. When Hannah Arent talks about the banality of evil, I think this is what she meant. But also there was discussion down to explicit conversations of whether they could hit protestors with cars and then claim self-defense, which is of course precisely want happened. So when Robbie says that these chats really illustrated the racist conspiracy that happened in Charlottesville, the meticulousness of how it was planned, the details are just truly stunning, and you can see some of those chats in the complaint itself, which is on our website, and which I think really should remain as horrific now as it did then four years ago when these chats first released out into the world.
Jay Ruderman (11:04):
Amy, maybe you could talk a little about the establishment of Integrity First for America, how it came about, at what time did it come about, and what are the main objectives of the organization?
Amy Spitalnick (11:17):
Absolutely. As Robbie was saying earlier, in 2017, I think there was a feeling that the Department of Justice and specifically the civil rights division was not going to be as invested or as enthusiastic about protecting our civil rights as they should be, to put it lightly. It was clear that there would be gaps in enforcement, gaps in the sort of public interest litigation and work that is so central to both protecting people’s rights when they are attacked and abused, as they were in Charlottesville, and continuing to advance the cause of equity and justice.
Amy Spitalnick (11:53):
So Integrity First for America came about in 2017, in order to help fill that gap, in order to support private plaintiffs, like the ones in our Charlottesville lawsuit in fighting for civil rights and fighting for justice in a moment when it was clear the traditional federal government establishment that would typically play that role was unlikely to be pursuing it with any enthusiasm, again, to put it likely.
Amy Spitalnick (12:20):
IFA was getting off the ground as Charlottesville happened, and when Robbie identified the potential for a lawsuit, when it was clear that there was a case to be made based on those online chats, based on the horrific violence that the plaintiffs survived, it seemed like the perfect fit for IFA. So this is really the centerpiece of our work. The Charlottesville case is just too big, too important, too resource intensive for us to be trying to balance it with 700 other cases. So at Integrity First for America, when we came in to support the plaintiffs in this case, it really did become the central part of our work, and of course, we think the case itself provides a crucial opportunity, not just to hold accountable and bring to justice those responsible for what happened in Charlottesville, but also to really create a model for accountability more broadly, have these major financial and operational impacts on the defendants and the white supremacist movement, and drive a public conversation on the rise of extremism and violent hate in this country at a time when it’s so crucially needed.
Jay Ruderman (13:32):
As a former prosecutor, I’m used to the government stepping in and taking a role and saying, “Okay, this is something we have to investigate and then eventually prosecute,” which I understand the reasons why it may not have happened in this case. But maybe you can talk a little bit about how you went about meeting the people who became eventually the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and how you got them to sign on, because my guess is there’s an element of fear of people stepping forward in a situation where they may face threats from the defendants.
Roberta Kaplan (14:13):
Sure. So basically what happened is, is after we had all watched that coverage, the horror of the coverage over the weekend and then early the next week, and after the Discord chats were released, as you said, it was pretty clear to me that we had sufficient evidence to bring a case. But I knew we needed plaintiffs, and I knew we needed a legal theory. So plaintiffs was the first step. What we did there is I called a good friend of mine, Dahlia Lithwick, who many of your listeners may know because she’s one of the preeminent writers about the Supreme Court. But I actually didn’t call her for that reason. She’s a phenomenal lawyer, but I called Dahlia because I knew she lived in Charlottesville, and she and her husband and their two sons had lived there for many years.
Roberta Kaplan (15:05):
So I called her and said, “Look. I have this crazy idea. I’m thinking about bringing this case, what do you think?” Basically her reaction was, “Listen, Robbie. I think it’s a great idea. I’m happy to put you in touch with folks down here. I know people who you should speak to, and I’m happy to do that. But ironically enough, we’re literally in the process right now of packing a van because we’re moving to New York, because we decided that the anti-Semitism there is so horrible, and so pervasive that we can no longer raise our kids here.”
Roberta Kaplan (15:44):
So that’s what happened. She put me in touch with some folks. I think within 24 or 48 hours after that call, we were on a plane to Charlottesville. It was still not too long after the events had happened, and I think it’s fair to say that the small town, and for those of you, people who haven’t been there, it’s really a lovely, bucolic college town. But it’s fair to say that the town was still very much in a state of shock. Many of the leaders and others who were involved in the violence had driven into Charlottesville, then kind of traveled around Charlottesville using these large, white Mercedes vans. Vans like that were still driving around the streets of Charlottesville, particularly in the African American neighborhoods. So the people, including the African Americans were petrified and rightly so.
Roberta Kaplan (16:44):
We got down there, and Dahlia and her friends had arranged a whole group of people to meet with us, and we said to these people, who you’re absolutely right, are incredibly brave. We said to them, “Look, we’re thinking about bringing this case.” All of our plaintiffs had been seriously injured in some way, and we said, “We understand you’ve been injured, and there may be quicker ways to try to get some compensation. We may have a case against the police for negligence. You may have a claim, if you were involved in the events on Friday night, against the University of Virginia. We obviously have no issue with you bringing those claims, but if you do bring those claims, you can’t join our lawsuit, and we don’t want to bring those claims for a whole bunch of reasons, but most prominently because we want to sue the people who are directly responsible here, which are organizers of the rally itself.”
Roberta Kaplan (17:41):
Everyone of the people who joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs basically said, “Okay, I’m signed up,” and that included people who had very, very severe injuries. So not only was it a sacrifice on their part because we filed the case in October ’17, it’s now May 2021, and we have a trial on the horizon, but it’s taken a long time to get there. But two, I’m pretty comfortable that the damages in the case are going to be incredibly high that the jury awards. I think the likelihood of our plaintiffs recovering those damages in full is very low. That’s something we told them too at the time.
Roberta Kaplan (18:17):
Then on top of all that, as you suggested, many of them were harassed kind of leading up to Charlottesville because they were activists in the community. Many of them have continued to be harassed and doxxed in Charlottesville and obviously becoming plaintiffs in our case made that an even greater risk for them.
Jay Ruderman (18:36):
So I’m curious as to how, Amy, how you and Robbie actually met, and does Integrity First for America, is it the fundraising that the organization does that is able to support the litigation?
Amy Spitalnick (18:54):
Yes. Now, I think Robbie and I have tried to figure out when we first exactly crossed paths, but it was at some point while I was working in a New York attorney general’s office, and unsurprisingly, some of the cases we were bringing them to protect folks’ civil rights, to protect consumers, including our case against the Trump Foundation and otherwise, seemed to sort of unofficially intersect with some of the work Robbie was doing. So we crossed paths at some point when I was in the AG’s office, and in the course of that relationship, Robbie called me up one day, and said, “I have an idea for you. Would you be interested in helping us sue Nazis?” I don’t know how anyone can say no to that. Certainly it’s hard to say no to Robbie in general. But particularly when she asks a question like that, I don’t know how anyone can turn down the opportunity to be a part of this fight, particularly at a moment when I think it’s so crucial.
Amy Spitalnick (20:00):
In terms of Integrity First for America and our role, that’s exactly right. So this case, as Robbie has said, has not been easy. It has not been fast, and there are some unique dynamics at play here that don’t tradionally exist in most civil litigation, including and especially threats, harassment, and the need for security. So while the legal work in this case is being generously donated by the five total firms that have been involved over the course of this case, there are major expenses that exist, including security, which is the biggest line item in our budget, because the threats and harassment our plaintiffs get, our legal team gets, IFA gets, others involved get. So there are other expenses around this case that don’t tradionally exist in most civil litigation, and some of those expenses are definitely compounded by the fact that the defendants have tried every opportunity and excuse to avoid accountability here, including those who have claimed their phones have fallen into toilets, which is the dog ate my homework of Nazi excuses, and a variety of other tools and tactics to really try to escape accountability.
Amy Spitalnick (21:10):
We’ve been successful at stopping them at every turn, and we are scheduled for trial this October in Charlottesville. But it has certainly been an intense and a resource intensive effort to get here, to make sure that our team can win in October, and that we are safe and secure in doing so.
Jay Ruderman (21:29):
So the defendants are neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Proud Boys, white supremacists, is that sort of the mix of defendants that you’re going after right now?
Roberta Kaplan (21:42):
Correct. It’s a combination of individuals and groups. They are all either Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or some combination of all above, although they all have these very kind of absurd technical distinctions they make about what they are and what they are not. They probably include the greatest hits of what’s known as the alt-right movement. So Richard Spencer, who’s probably the most prominent person in this movement, until Charlottesville, up until our lawsuit, is one of the private defendants. Chris Cantwell, who for people who’ve seen the Vice video about Charlottesville, he’s probably known as the crying Nazi, because he’s seen in that video crying somewhat from tear gas, I think, but then later in a hotel room with just an enormous arsenal of weapons.
Roberta Kaplan (22:38):
Andrew England, who’s a neo-Nazi, is one of the individual defendants, and then the two guys, probably the most important, are two guys who actually the ability to decide who could be a member of the Discord chat. You had to ask for an opportunity to participate, and those two guys are a local person by the name of Jason Kessler, and another guy by the name of Klein, and super importantly, with respect to the second individual, we have obtained adverse inference rulings from the judge based on both his lying in discovery, and his failure to participate in good faith in discovery, and those adverse inference rulings are going to result in the jury being instructed by the judge to assume that Klein was a member of a violent conspiracy intending to commit racially motivated violence in Charlottesville [inaudible 00:23:38]. So my entire career as a lawyer, I’ve wanted to get an adverse inference ruling, but like that, we finally got one here.
Amy Spitalnick (23:45):
It’s really important to understand just how central they are to this movement. So of course many of them on their own have been leaders for years. We also know that they’re deeply connected to the broader cycle of white supremacist and extremist violence in recent years. We know, for example, the Pittsburgh shooter, who killed 11 Jews praying in synagogue two and a half years ago communicated with some of the Charlottesville leaders before his attack. The Christchurch shooter who killed dozens of Muslims praying in mosques in New Zealand two years ago donated to two of our defendants, and painted onto his gun a white power symbol that was popularized by a third. Christchurch was live streamed, and in turn inspired the Poway Chabad attack, the El Paso Walmart attack, and so you see how this cycle of violence goes, in which each attack is used to inspire the next one.
Amy Spitalnick (24:32):
And over and over again, we see how our defendants, how these leaders and groups really are at the center of this movement, and it speaks to how this case can have a major impact, not just on what happened in Charlottesville, and not just on the Charlottesville community, but on this broader network of extremists who are deeply interconnected and who have helped fuel and encourage so much of the violence we’ve seen in recent years.
Jay Ruderman (24:56):
So obviously you’re talking about people who are not only have extremist, racist, anti-Semitic views, but are willing to act on them. So it brings me to the question that both of you are putting yourselves out very publicly, as opposing people who are extremely violent. Are you taking precautions for your own security? Because I would have to imagine there are many threats that are coming your way.
Amy Spitalnick (25:25):
The short answer is yes, and yes. I think I mentioned earlier that security is by far the biggest line item in our budget, and that is because these defendants and their supporters have used threats, have used harassment and violence as a means to try to scare our plaintiffs, our legal team, and IFA away from holding them accountable. This is not a shocking tactic, this is exactly how they operate, but it still means we have to take precautions. In some cases, that means the defendants have directly threatened us, like Chris Cantwell, who talked about all the fun he’s going to have with Robbie when this is over, in additionally anti-Semitic and misogynistic terms that I won’t repeat or. Or another defendant who posted just a few weeks ago that I should personally be scared of him, or one of the defendants who sits live streaming in the middle of the night talking about Robbie and I and others in our team. I think in particular their focus has been on the Jewish women who are leading this effort, which is a testament to how directly they are fueled by both anti-Semitism and misogyny in this effort.
Amy Spitalnick (26:37):
Of course, there’s also a greater risk there, which is the ability of these defendants to use social media to rile their loyal followers to action, and we see how that has happened in the course of the extremist violence over the last few years, and it makes it all the more important that we take precautions. So without going into details about the precautions we take, suffice it to say we keep a close eye on the threats, the harassment that are being made against us, and when we go to trial this fall, security will be the most important concern for our team. Making sure that Robbie and our legal team and our plaintiffs and our expert witnesses can go to trial and feel safe and secure in presenting our case without having to worry about the defendants’ threats of violence.
Jay Ruderman (27:23):
So let me ask you sort of a theoretical question. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, are they just a problem that they’re going to be around forever, or do you feel that there’s a way that they will stop existing or at least give up their ways of anti-Semitism and racism?
Roberta Kaplan (27:46):
So Amy should speak to this, but let me start. I think my mind has changed on this. I was born in 1966, and while I had heard stories from my parents and my grandparents of anti-Semitism in this country, I personally, not that I’m aware of, that I’ve ever experienced it. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio that has a lot of Jews. I went to colleges on the East Coast with a lot of Jews. And then I moved to New York City with an enormous number of Jews. While of course, I don’t know what was said about my back, it’s not something that I really consciously encountered in my life.
Roberta Kaplan (28:29):
Charlottesville, and I think it’s what spurred me to action, was a huge radical break from that past. The idea that openly avowed Nazis were marching on the streets of an American town, chanting things like, “Jews back into the ovens,” and doing so with weapons was horrifying to me. So I honestly think that while I might have said in the past that I thought anti-Semitism had been kind of defeated or maybe beaten down in the United States of America, I think today I’m not sure I would say that’s true. I think that at best, what we can say is that these hatreds exist. They’ve always existed. The [inaudible 00:29:17] always exist throughout history, as we know so tragically. But that prior to kind of this new alt-right movement, and prior to the encouragement of that movement by Donald Trump and his allies, people who held these views were ashamed or embarrassed to voice them.
Roberta Kaplan (29:39):
What changed in August 2017 was that they now felt emboldened to leave their basements, come up on the streets, and actually start beating and murdering people. So I guess it’s a long way to say, my goal here, frankly, is to send them back into their basements. I’m not naïve enough anymore to think that we can get rid of their thoughts, but we can get rid of their ability motivated by those thoughts to commit violence on the streets of American cities.
Jay Ruderman (30:14):
A friend of mine, Abe Foxman, who was the past head of the past head of the Anti-Defamation League, once said, “There’s no vaccine for anti-Semitism.” So it’s my understanding as the case goes on, there will be two main successes that hopefully will come out of it. One is to raise the issue for the general public in the United States and around the world of the existence of these organizations and how connected they are and how organized they are. But also, if the legislation is successful, to really financially hurt these organizations and to take away the financial resources to allow them to move forward and do things like they did in Charlottesville. Would you say that’s part of the outcome that you’re looking for?
Roberta Kaplan (31:10):
One of the ways I look at this, is if you look at kind of the course of American history every couple decades or so, there’s a trial that happens that tends to be about much more than the parties in the case. If you go back in history. Think about the Scopes monkey trial or cases like that. Sacco and Vanzetti. In terms of our own generation, or at least my generation, the prop 8 trial that was happening in California with David [inaudible 00:31:37] at the same time I was doing the Edie Windsor case, I think really shed a lot of light on how irrational the arguments were against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
Roberta Kaplan (31:50):
I think that this trial is very likely to have the same impact. I think that while Americans now, especially after January 6th, are certainly aware that this problem exists, are probably more aware now that this problem exists, I don’t think enough Americans, and frankly enough Jews fully understand the depth of the problem, and fully understand the danger that is posed by these groups, who again feel so emboldened to do what they do quite openly.
Roberta Kaplan (32:23):
I think that this trial before a jury, for two to three weeks, in the town of Charlottesville, is going to be that kind of a trial. We’re going to have evidence, obviously, from our plaintiffs. We’re going to have evidence from the defendants, and we’re going to have expert testimony from people like Deborah Lipstadt, the very eminent Holocaust scholar, who will explain to the jury that the language and symbolism used by the defendants in this case traces itself straight back to what happened with Hitler in Nazi Germany.
Jay Ruderman (33:01):
We’re living through a time right now where there’s a lot of, ironically, recording this, there’s a lot of anti-Semitism throughout America. All of us grew up here and lived our lives here. Do you feel comfortable as a Jew in America right now?
Roberta Kaplan (33:22):
I have started brushing up on my Hebrew every day with these little iPhone Hebrew programs. Just in case I feel the need, just as Dahlia moved from Charlottesville to New York, I feel the need to leave the country. I don’t say that as in any way imminent, and I’m doing this in part to fight back, but given Jewish history, I think it would be naïve not to think that it’s not possible, if we don’t succeed in this fight.
Amy Spitalnick (33:51):
I think we’re living in uniquely frightening times. I mentioned earlier, I’m the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and it’s impossible not to look at my family’s history, and the history of so many other Jews in this country and see parallels. See parallels with the darkest times in our history as a people. But I also think that unlike my grandparents’ generation, there are particular reasons for hope, and specifically the fact that we have a justice system, we have a rule of law. We have laws like the Ku Klux Klan Act, and we are using them to fight back. So for me, at a particularly dark time, that gives me hope, that gives me optimism.
Amy Spitalnick (34:34):
We need to fight like crazy not only to use those tools to take on extremism, anti-Semitism, other forms of violent hate, but also to protect the system and to improve the system and make sure it’s working equitably and fairly for everyone it’s meant to protect. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t use the tools we have right now to take action, and at a really dark time, that gives me hope, while still being, of course, cautious and like any American Jew, anxious about what the future holds.
Jay Ruderman (35:09):
So let me end with Robbie and Amy, you’ve dedicated your lives to legal advocacy. Maybe on a personal level, can you just tell us, what’s the greatest thing you get from what you’ve devoted your life too, and what’s the hardest part of devoting your life to legal advocacy?
Amy Spitalnick (35:31):
For me, the work that we’re doing at Integrity First for America is sort of the natural follow to the work that I did at the attorney general’s office before that, and I spent a lot of my career in public service and government. For me, it’s the belief that while we have to be proactive, while we have to be aggressive, there are ways in which we can move the needle, that we can move the ball forward. Particularly in this case, as I’ve mentioned, even before we get to trial, seeing the impact a case like this can have. Seeing Richard Spencer talk about how we’ve financially crippled him. Seeing the accountability and the justice that these extremists are finally facing at a time when there has been so little accountability, I think there is so much value in that.
Amy Spitalnick (36:26):
Value not just because of the direct impact it has on these extremists on others who are looking to this in terms of the consequences they might face, but also because it really provides a model for accountability in justice moving forward. If we as a small nonprofit with incredible lawyers like Robbie and others, if we can financially cripple Richard Spencer, imagine what could be done if the full weight of the tools we have were brought to bear in the fight against extremism. So for me, that gives me optimism that I think teaches us that there is power in the system that we have, and again, while we have to fight to improve that system, we have to fight to improve the tools we have, we can use them right now, and keep moving the needle forward in whichever way possible.
Roberta Kaplan (37:22):
I’ve spent a lot of my life, a lot of my adult life, at least, dedicated to the proposition that the law and the courts can be used to obtain justice. I feel that the point of living is to fight for those principles, and my best way to do that is to do it as a lawyer [inaudible 00:37:40] The hard part about it though, of course, is when you get into the depths of the hatred that exists, and reading these messages from the defendants in our Charlottesville case, it’s not like you can [inaudible 00:37:56]
Roberta Kaplan (37:57):
It’s hard. It’s emotionally hard. I find the best way to deal with it is through humor, and one of the things we’ve done on our team is we kind of have a joke that at some point we want to publish a coffee table book entitled Things Nazis Also Say. Because on the one hand, while they’re talking about using weaponry, and how to organize marches through Charlottesville and how to make it look like an act of self-defense, or how to run over a protester, and make it look like an act of self-defense. On the one hand, when they’re doing that, at the same time they have messages about literally the most banal of subjects. So for example, there’s a huge discussion leading up to August 12th about what’s the best way to pack sandwiches, how to make sure the sandwiches don’t spoil in the sun if you use mayonnaise, and my personal favorite is a whole discussion about which type of gluten free bread would be best to use.
Roberta Kaplan (39:00):
You kind of have to puncture through kind of the tragedy and the sadness of all of it with humor, and that’s at least how we manage to do it on our case, and I promise, some day we will publish those messages, because they’re definitely worth reading.
Jay Ruderman (39:18):
That sounds great. I want to wish you both a lot of success and to stay safe and secure. We need your advocacy out there to make our country and our world a better place. Amy, if people want to get involved, I assume they should go to the website for Integrity First for America, and there’s a way that they can contribute that way.
Amy Spitalnick (39:44):
Absolutely. So if you go to integrityfirstforamerica.org, you can get involved. You can sign up for updates. You can donate. Know that every single donation for IFA directly supports this case, and specifically the security and evidence collection costs that I mentioned earlier. You can use our sample social media content to spread the word. We want to make sure that of course not only our team is well resourced and safe and secure when we go to trial this fall, but that people know that this is happening, that this case can be used to ring the alarm bells about the crisis of extremism in this country. So everything folks can do, anything folks can do. Spreading the word, donating, it all makes a huge difference for us as we prepare for trial in October.
Jay Ruderman (40:31):
Thank you so much both of you for joining me today on All Inclusive. It was a great conversation, and so important.
Roberta Kaplan (40:37):
Thank you for having us.
Amy Spitalnick (40:38):
Thank you so much.
Speaker 3 (40:40):
All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. Have an idea for a podcast? Be sure to tweet @jayruderman.